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Author \;\ c^ vv , T K . . 

Title H- 

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By the same author 




'The only great work of pity in all Rome 


T. B.. HENN, C.B.E., M.A. 

Fellow and Tutor of St Catharine's College, Cambridge 
University Lecturer in English 



First published August 30th, 1956 
Reprinted 1961 




At the heart of the nature of things, there are always the 
dream of youth and the harvest of tragedy. The Adventure of 
the Universe starts with the dream and reaps tragic Beauty. This 
is the secret of the Union of Zest with Peace that the suffering 
attains its end in a Harmony of Harmonies. The immediate 
experience of this Final Fact, with its union of Youth and 
Tragedy, is the sense of Peace. In this way the World receives 
its persuasion towards such perfections as are possible for its 
diverse individual occasions. 


Tragedy is clean, it is restful, it is flawless. 


To the thinker, feeling is a nuisance, except as it is exacted 
from other people ... It is only when he can see that he must 
find salvation within himself, in taking responsibility for the 
archaic and irrational feeling elements in his own unconscious, 
that he can find the God within, the new value rising from the 


A. N. WHITEHEAD: Adventures of Ideas 

ANOUILH: Antigone 

p. G. WICKES: The Inner World of Man 












10 'THE WOMAN'S PART* 105 














INDEX 299 



Michaclangelo: Pieta frontispiece 

(Photo: Anderson) 

The Circles of Tragedy facing page 38 

Allori, Cristofano: Judith with the head ofHolofernes 112 

Blake: The Image of Pity 156 

Blake: Famine 

(By courtesy of the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) 250 

Delacroix: Ophelia's Grave 

(Photo: Giraudon) 259 



I WISH to tender grateful acknowledgements to the following for 
their permission to quote or reproduce: 

Mrs Frieda Lawrence Ravagli for two verses from D. H. Lawrence's 
Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani; George Allen & Unwin Ltd for the 
quotation from My Life and Thought by Albert Schweitzer; Bowes & 
Bowes Ltd for the quotation from Erich Heller's The Disinherited 
Mind', Jonathan Cape Ltd for the quotations from Mourning Becomes 
Elektra by Eugene O'Neill, Brieux's The Three Daughters of Monsieur 
Dupont, Strindberg's Lady Julie, and Jonathan Cape Ltd and the 
Executors of the James Joyce Estate for a quotation from A Portrait of 
the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce; Columbia University Press, 
New York, for the quotation from The Poetry of Thomas Hardy by 
J. G. Southworth; J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd for the quotation from 
F. L. Lucas's translation of Hippolytt4s, and Ibsen's Brand (Everyman); 
Faber & Faber Ltd for the quotations from T. S. Eliot's Poetry, 
Drama and Prose; Hamish Hamilton Ltd for the quotation from 
J. Y. Cousteau's The Silent World', William Heinemann Ltd for the 
quotation (torn John Gabriel Borkman by Ibsen ; The Hogarth Press Ltd for 
the quotation from F. L. Lucas's Tragedy, Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd 
for the quotation from Shakespeare by H. Fluchere; Macmillan & Co. 
Ltd for the quotations from Sir John Fortescue's History of the British 
Army, Butcher's translation of Aristotle's Poetics and Sean O'Casey's 
Juno and the Paycock and The Silver Tassie, and to Mrs Yeats and 
Messrs. Macmillan for the extracts from Yeats's Prose and Verse; 
Methuen & Co. Ltd for the quotations from Antigone by Jean Anouilh 
and G. Norwood's Euripides and Shaw, New Directions Inc., New 
York, for the quotations from Three Tragedies of Lorca, translated by 
James Graham-Luzan and R. L. O'Connell; James Nisbet & Co. Ltd 
for the quotations from Beyond Tragedy by Reinhold Niebuhr; The 
Oxford University Press for the quotation from Archetypal Patterns in 
Poetry by M. Bodkin; Penguin Books Ltd for the quotations from The 
Greeks by H. D. F. Kitto; Phoenix House Ltd for the quotation from 
Dr J. Bronowski's The Face of Violence; The Public Trustee and The 
Society of Authors for the quotations from Bernard Shaw's Stjoan, 



The Doctor's Dilemma and Mrs Warrens Profession-, Routledge & Kegan 
Paul Ltd for the quotations from Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 
and Introduction to the Science of Mythology by Jung and Kerenyi. 

I wish to apologize for any accidental omissions that may be found 
in this list. 


THE object proposed in this book is to examine certain facts, theories 
and assumptions regarding the nature of the form which we term, 
loosely, Tragedy. To undertake such a task seems at first sight pre- 
sumptuous, or otiose, or both. Much has been written on the subject, 
and much more is to come. 1 But it seems arguable that we have now 
reached a stage at which some fresh inquiry might be fruitful: particu- 
larly if the 'fact or experience* which we call Tragedy were to be 
examined, not as a stable compound, but as a highly complex, com- 
posite and active substance and form; with characteristic effects which 
can best be apprehended, because of their very nature, in religious or 
mystical terms. 

Further, it appears probable that both the values and structures of the 
components of the form arc themselves compound rather than simple: 
varying greatly in their composition according to the view of life 
presented by the individual writer of tragedies, himself a figure to be 
considered in some detail in the setting of his age. And if these terms are 
indeed compound and complex, it appears necessary to re-state the 
elemental and elementary problems of the subject; to consider how far 
philosophy, psychology and religion may now affect the triple thought 
that underlies them; and to attempt to relate or project the conclusions 
into some vital relationship with life and death. 

The student of such a subject as this becomes aware, from the very 
outset, of the gravest implications in his object of study. Tragedy, from 
its very nature, concerns itself continually with specific attitudes to- 
wards the widest possible range of moral problems. Such attitudes may 
be implicit or explicit; more often, perhaps, a complicated balance 
between the two. It may rely on paradox or antithesis for its typical 
statements, allowing no more than a momentary synthesis to emerge 
through image or symbol. When 'wrought to its uttermost* the 

1 While this book was in draft form, Dr Weisinger'i work, Tragedy and the Paradox of 
the Fortunate Fall, appeared. 


essential problems converge rapidly upon religion and metaphysics. 
Yet it cannot seek its answers (since it moves too rapidly) through 
obscure definitions or even in terms of dogma. Its statement is 'philo- 
sophical' in the Aristotelian sense, in that tragedy can use for that pur- 
pose the resources of complex emotional communications, both in 
relation to its intellectual propositions and to the manner in which they 
may be interpreted. Its poetic resources are limited only by its intrinsic 
power to induce the audience to accept them, whether by Longinus's 
'lightning flash', or by the gradual process of establishing a specific 
tradition. At its best it can create a moral homogeneity in the audience, 
and thereby acquire a power equalled only by the Epic at the height of 
its tradition, and by the greatest preachers of the seventeenth century. 
Because of the limitations of its form it cannot multiply entities, meta- 
physical or psychological, beyond a certain point; it must therefore 
achieve (at whatever cost in slow-developed subtleties of motive and 
character), a compression and energy that is found in no other form. 


I am aware both of those philosophies that find tragedy as a form 
to be either obsolescent or obsolete in the light of twentieth-century 
thought, and of those attacks, more specifically literary, which have 
formally dismissed it. 

In this last category Mr J. W. Krutch may be quoted as typical: 

Tragedies, in that only sense of the word which has any distinctive 
meaning, can no longer be written in either the dramatic or in any other 
form, and the fact is not to be accounted for in any merely literary terms . . . 1 
The tragic solution of the problem of existence, the reconciliation to life by 
means of the tragic spirit is, that is to say, now only a fiction surviving in 
art. 2 When that art has become, as it probably will, completely meaningless, 
when we have ceased not only to write but to read tragic works, then it will 
be lost and in all real senses forgotten, since the devolution from Religion to 
Art to Document will be complete. 8 

The implicit and explicit assumptions in this statement can be use- 
fully contrasted with Nietzsche's view: 

. . . and this is the most immediate effect of the Dionysian tragedy, that 
the state and society, and, in general, the gaps between man and man give 

1 The Modern Temper, p. 118. 

1 'The scholiast has hungrily misheard a dead man's toller as a muffwbelT, Finnegans 
Wake, p. 121, 1. 30 (dr. L, A. G. Strong). 
8 Ibid., p. 193. 


way to an overwhelming feeling of oneness, which leads back to the heart of 
nature. The metaphysical comfort with which, as I have here intimated, 
every true tragedy dismisses us that, in spite of the perpetual change of 
phenomena, life at bottom is indestructibly powerful and pleasurable, this 
comfort appears with corporeal lucidity in the satiric chorus, as the chorus 
of natural beings who live ineradicable as it were behind all civilization, and 
who, in spite of the ceaseless change of generations and the history of nations, 
remain for ever the same. 1 

We cannot escape this conflict; we may even use Andre Malraux's 
question 2 to state it more simply: 'On this soil of Europe, yes or no, is 
man dead?' In any consideration of tragic principles we shall be drawn 
into discussion of Existentialism, of Marxism, of Victorian optimism 
and of modern pessimism; as well as of the philosophies of Schopen- 
hauer, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel. For a framework to my own specula- 
tions I am profoundly indebted to the work of Reinhold Niebuhr; and 
I have therefore become involved, in varying degrees, in the rejection 
of the views of those who, through varying combinations of pessimism 
and materialism, have sought to show the irresponsibility of tragedy 
and the obsolescence of the values which it propounds. 


As this essay progresses, it will, I think, be clear that I have reached 
a position in which anthropology and psychology appear to converge 
on, and blend with, modern 'Realistic* theology; 3 that I have been led 
to consider certain of the historical and political implications of my 
subject; and that the circle has returned to Shelley's aphorism: 'Poetry 
administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.' I do not apologize 
for this line of development. The implications of any discussion of the 
subject are such that moral questions are of the first importance. 'The 
literary critic is concerned rather with the wisdom inherent in literature, 
with the judgement of its ethical soundness, the firmness and range of 
its imitation of life.' 4 

It has therefore seemed essential to attempt to develop, in parallel 
rather than in series, the aesthetic and ethical aspects of the discussion; 

1 The Birth of Tragedy, pp. 60-1. 

1 In a lecture given at the Sorbonne, 4 Nov. 1946. 

8 That is, the branch of theology which has for its characteristic approach the rejection 
of the 'liberal* faith in the essential perfectibility of human nature and society; and which 
develops its position from a re-examination of the doctrine of the Fall and of original sin. 

4 Norman Foerster, The Intent of the Critic, p. 75. 


to consider both the classical explanations of the nature and functions 
of tragedy, as well as those which have been put forward in the past 
half century; and not to evade such religious or mystical speculations 
which seem, of recent years, to have gone beyond what was once 
thought proper in orthodox theology. And if an interpretation of the 
naturejmcl meaning of tragedy can be linked to the religious thought, 
nof merely of the Greeks or Elizabethans, but of the contemporary 
world, it may be that some light 'though somewhat broken by the 
leaves' can be thrown on some of its problems; nor is it, perhaps, 
entirely idle to see, in our interpretation of two great wars, some micro- 
cosm or macrocosm of the patterns that tragedy reveals. 

Writers to-day, both on politics and on morals, lament the loss of 
the 'sense of tragedy* in the western world. They appear, in general, to 
attribute this to a corresponding loss of traditional values. But although 
we have irrefutable evidence of the de-sensitization, during and after 
each war, of the public and private conscience, its bearing upon the 
significance of tragedy is as yet by no means clear; and it will be 
suggested later that the problem can be shown to be one of varying 
doctrines of individual responsibility in the historical setting. 

And if indeed counsels of despair prevail, if we are driven to deny 
what seem the deeper levels of human moral consciousness, we are 
denying not only tragedy but our response to a vast body of literature. 
We are exchanging what might move us to a greater wisdom for what 
merely titillates the surface; and we may suspect that this in turn is 
symptomatic of the atrophy of our general interest in ethical problems. 
The end is the decay of a sense of responsibility in many kinds of living. 

In an attempt to impose some degree of unity upon so vast a subject, 
I have tried to follow out two main considerations: the formal 
features, qualities and effects of the tragic form, and that aspect of it 
which can be seen in terms of hubris, the sin of pride, and its counter- 
parts in Christian philosophy. As touching this last, I do not see 
tragedy as the product of a wholly Christian faith, but as arising always 
out of the conflict (whether in the words of St Paul or of Sir Philip 
Sidney) between man's erected wit and his infected will. To these 
we may, perhaps, add a third component; the sheer complexity of 
the machinery of politics and government which (lacking any centre 
or power of simplification in existing systems) drives men to pitiless 
bewilderment, or to the irresponsibility of despair. 

I have tried to achieve, though I know that I have failed, some 
balance between exposition and criticism, between recapitulation of 


plays that may be unfamiliar and the seemingly arrogant assumption 
of wider reading. 

Not least among the difficulties of the subject is that of a critical 
terminology: its 'impure* nature, the danger of using traditional 
critical counters such as hubris and katharsis though they appear in- 
evitable; the indefiniteness of terms such as pattern, rhythm, conflict', the 
fact that we are dealing continually with qualities of persons and events 
that cannot be analysed directly, and with responses which can only be 
experienced and not argued over. Further, English is poor in some of 
the concepts that can be used with enlightenment in German. It is 
difficult, for instance, to find an exact equivalent to 'die tragische 
Erhebung'; 'Ruhrung' in the sense of 'calm of mind all passion spent* or 
'Teilnehmungsgefuhle* are untranslatable except by means of cumbrous 
paraphrases. Todtentrieb and Schadenfreude, though clearer in meaning 
because more familiar, are other instances. And the writer on tragedy 
lays himself open, at every turn, either to the charge of establishing new 
meanings upon an old terminology, or to losing himself in imprecision. 

I am aware at every turn of my debts to many writers; among them 
Dr Ellis-Fermor for her Frontiers of Drama; F. L. Lucas for his Psy- 
chology and Criticism, and his Tragedy; Francis Fergusson for his Idea of a 
Theatre. On the philosophical and religious sides I owe much to the 
work and advice of Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr; to the writings of 
William Temple, Maud Bodkin, G. L. Bickersteth, and W. R. 
Matthews, Dean of St Paul's. 

My thanks are due to the President and Fellows of Yale, the Ad- 
ministrators of the Fulbright Grant, and the Trustees of the Leverhulme 
Fund for the assistance which made it possible to complete this book, 
and for the opportunity of meeting many of the scholars to whose 
work and thought I am indebted. 

Other debts I have tried to express in the text and in the footnotes; 
but I have drawn from many sources, and no doubt I have, uncon- 
sciously, re-cast much of the thought of others of my teachers and 
of my own pupils with whom I have talked. Among them, I am 
grateful in particular to Professor Basil Willey, Patric Dickinson, Dr 
R. T. H. Redpath, M. D. Brown, Professor A. E. Edinborough, the 
late Dr G. P. D. Allt, A. B. Wilkinson for assistance with the proofs 
and index, and to those who contributed to the views expressed in 
Chapter 22. 



The Aristotelian Induction: and some Related 


IT is convenient to use certain extracts from the Poetics, both because of 
their familiarity and their central analysis of most dramatic writing, as a 
starting point: and to indicate briefly some of the questions that may 
arise. For this purpose Butcher's translation has been used, and I have 
not attempted to recapitulate the standard glosses upon it. 

I. Tragedy, then, is an imitation of 
an action that is serious, complete, 
and of a certain magnitude; in 
language embellished with each 
kind of artistic ornament, the 
several kinds being found in 
separate parts of the play, in the 
form of action, not of narrative; 
through pity and fear effecting the 
proper purgation of these emo- 
tions. 1 

2. Again, Tragedy is an imitation of 
an action; and an action implies 
personal agents, who necessarily 
possess certain distinctive quali- 
ties both of character and thought; 
for it is by these that we qualify 
actions themselves, and these 
thought and character are the 
two natural causes from which 

There is no agreement as to what an 
action is, or how it is to be defined. 
Imitation is perhaps the most de- 
bated word in the Poetics. Serious 
can be defined initially as 'that 
which matters* as opposed to that 
which is superficial, transitory: but 
its connotations have both nar- 
rowed and expanded throughout 
literary history. Complete is defined 
as that which has a beginning, a 
middle and an end. Both beginning 
and end raise dramatic problems. 
Magnitude is dealt with elsewhere. 
What, exactly, are pity and fear in 
tragedy, and what is purgation? in 
Aristotle's sense, or in ours? 

What is the relationship of thought 
and character to action? And what 
is the relationship of both to 
personality? By what scales re- 
ligious, ethical, social, personal do 
we reckon success or failure? 

1 Poetics, VI, 2. 


actions spring, and on actions again 
all success or failure depends. 1 
Hence, the Plot is the imitation 
of the action: for by plot I here 
mean the arrangement of the 
incidents. 2 

4. But most important of all is the 
structure of the incidents. For 
Tragedy is an imitation, not of 
men, but of an action and of life, 
and life consists in action, and its 
end is a mode of action, not a 
quality. 8 

5. ... the most powerful elements 
of emotional interest in Tragedy 
Peripeteia or Reversal of the Situ- 
ation, and Recognition scenes 
are parts of the plot. 4 

6. But the limit as fixed by the 
nature of the drama itself is this: 
the greater the length, the more 
beautiful will the piece be by 
reason of its size, provided that 
the whole be perspicuous. 6 

7. As therefore, in the other imita- 
tive arts, the imitation is one 
when the object imitated is one, 
so the plot being an imitation of 

1 Poetics, VI, 5. 

The Greek and the modern meanings 
of plot appear to differ: for the 
Greek dramatist is writing on the 
foundation of an accepted myth, 
which it is his business to re-time 
and reorganize. 

Aristotle's emphasis on plot is reason- 
able, since he has a biological 
approach to tragedy, and the plot 
is the skeleton of the animal. But 
his second proposition raises meta- 
physical and ethical questions; both 
absolutely, and in their relation to 
Greek and Christian thought. 

Peripeteia may, for the moment, be 
defined as a 'turn* in the plot (to 
use Dry den's phrase) which in- 
volves a recoil upon the inventor's 
head; Recognition is 'the realization 
that things are otherwise than they 
were believed to be at some prior 
stage in the plot'. But both terms 
require amplification and discus- 
sion. Recognition in particular, in 
view of its relationship to memory 
as well as to inductive reasoning, is 
of special interest in dramatic 

The question of length has, obviously, 
othei factors: probably the momen- 
tum which (it will be argued later) 
must be generated in the action. 
(But consider the problem of the 
one-act tragedy e.g. Riders to the 

Assuming that we have defined action 
and imitation, in what sense is the 
unity of action to be understood? 

1 Ibid., VI, 6. 

8 Ibid., VI, 9. Cf. Blake's: 'All that is not action is not worth reading.' 
Ibid.. VI, 13. 6 Ibid.. VII, 7. 


an action, must imitate one action 
and that a whole . . . l 

8. Poetry, therefore, is a more philo- 
sophical and a higher thing than 
history; for poetry tends to ex- 
press the universal, history the 
particular. 2 

9. But tragedians still keep to real 
names, the reason being that what 
is possible is credible: what has 
not happened we do not at once 
feel sure to be possible: but what 
has happened is manifestly pos- 
sible, otherwise it would not have 
happened. 8 

10. Of aU plots and actions the epei- 
sodic are the worst. I call a plot 
'episodic* in which the episodes or 
acts succeed one another without 
probable or necessary sequence. 4 

11. But again, Tragedy is an imita- 
tion not only of a complete 
action, but of events inspiring 
fear or pity. Such an effect is best 
produced when the events come 
on us by surprise; and the effect is 
heightened when, at the same 
time, they follow as cause and 
effect. The tragic wonder will 
then be greater than if they hap- 
pened of themselves or by 
accident; for even coincidences 
are most striking when they have 
an air of design. 6 

12. ... the change of fortune pre- 
sented must not be the spectacle 

Assuming again that history is the 
object of factual narrative which 
is, of course, impossible what is 
the sense of more philosophical and 

What are the advantages of the his- 
torical fable? It will, obviously, 
facilitate the task of exposition: 
but what effect has it on the credi- 
bility of the play? And is 'credi- 
bility* necessary? What is the 
relationship of the Past to the 
Present in the tragic structure? 

Is the 'epeisodic* plot necessarily bad? 
How are we to define probable and 
necessary? What is the distinction 
between the probable and the im- 
probable but possible? What is the 
delicate balance between the criteria 
of our own reason, and the 'willing 
suspension of disbelief* that the 
dramatist enforces upon reader or 

Is it true that pity and fear whatever 
they may be are best produced by 
surprise? And what is meant by 
cause and effect? What does of them- 
selves mean? What is the part played 
by accident? and is it true that 
coincidences are most striking when 
they have an air of design? When 
does this design merge into Deter- 

Aristotle raises the whole question of 
the 'sinless hero*. As a further point 

1 ibid., vra, 4. 

Ibid., DC, 10. 

1 Ibid., IX, 3. 
/fcn/., IX, ii. 

1 Ibid., DC, 6. 


of a virtuous man brought from 
prosperity to adversity: for this 
moves neither pity nor fear; it 
merely shocks us. Nor, again, that 
of a bad man passing from ad- 
versity to prosperity: for nothing 
can be more alien to the spirit of 
Tragedy; it possesses no single 
tragic quality; it neither satisfies 
the moral sense nor calls forth 
pity or fear. Nor, again, should 
the downfall of the utter villain 
be exhibited. A plot of this kind 
would, doubtless, satisfy the 
moral sense, but it would inspire 
neither pity nor fear; for pity is 
aroused by unmerited misfortune, 
fear by the misfortune of a man 
like ourselves. Such an event, 
therefore, will be neither pitiful 
nor terrible. 1 

13. Two parts, then, of the Plot 
Reversal of the Situation and 
Recognition turn upon sur- 
prises. A third part is the Scene of 
Suffering. The Scene of Suffering 
is a destructive or painful action, 
such as death on the stage, bodily 
agony, wounds and the like. 2 

14. (The tragic hero should be) ... a 
man who is not eminently good 
and just, yet whose misfortune is 
brought about not by vice or de- 
pravity, but by some error or 
frailty. He must be one who is 
highly renowned and prosperous, 
a personage like Oedipus, 
Thyestes, or other illustrious men 
of such families. 3 

of interest he appears to isolate the 
satisfaction of the moral sense from 
the emotional responses of pity and 
fear; the former being no doubt 
intellectual. Further, the partial 
definitions of pity and fear in the 
last sentence may seem to us to 
simplify these emotions to an undue 

What is the value of the Scene of 
Suffering? Is it an archaic survival, 
and no longer to be tolerated? Or 
has it sadistic or masochistic ele- 
ments of possible therapeutic value? 
Is there a limit to dramatic tolera- 
tion of suffering? How is it to be 
connected, if at all, with Christian 

How far have the changes in the 
social and political pattern made 
obsolete the original symbolic 
values of the hero in his identifica- 
tion with the fate of his people? 
Are there any compensating factors 
in modern drama which produce 
the necessary sense of projected 
sympathy if, indeed, this is the 
explanation of the tragic hero's 
stature and appeal? What is error or 
frailty? how is it to be reconciled 

1 Poetics, xm, 2. 

Ibid., XI, 6. 

1 Ibid., XIII, 3. 


i. Those who employ spectacular 
means to create a sense not of the 
terrible but only of the monstrous, 
arc strangers to the purpose of 
Tragedy; for we must not de- 
mand of Tragedy any and every 
kind of pleasure, but only that 
which is proper to it. And since 
the pleasure which the poet 
should afford is that which comes 
from pity and fear through imi- 
tation, it is evident that this 
quality must be impressed upon 
the incidents. 1 

1 6. (The playwright) may not indeed 
destroy the framework of the re- 
ceived legends the fact, for in- 
stance, that Clytemnestra was 
slain by Orestes and Eriphyle by 
Alcmaeon but he ought to show 
invention of his own, and skil- 
fully handle the traditional 
material. 2 

17. Now any speech or action that 
manifests moral purpose of any 
kind will be expressive of char- 
acter: the character will be good 
if the purpose is good. 8 

1 8. The Chorus too should be re- 
garded as one of the actors; it 
should be an integral part of 

with, e.g., the Hegelian theory? 
What is its connection with ethical 
and religious ideas of 'sin* what- 
ever definitions we may allow for 
that word? And how far do chang- 
ing concepts of sin as for instance 
those involved in the transition 
from Nineteenth Century Liberal 
thought to modern 'Realistic* 
theology bear upon the question 
of tragic responsibility? 
Terrible horrible monstrous 
grotesque what meanings are we to 
give these words? And what kinds 
of 'pleasure* are proper to tragedy? 

In view of the consistent appeal of the 
received legends whether as arche- 
types or for some other reason 
what are the limits that should be 
imposed on the playwright who 
handles them? 

Again this question of the relation- 
ship of character to action: with the 
need for reaching an understanding 
of purpose, or, perhaps, will. 

Enough has been written of the func- 
tion of the Chorus in Greek drama; 
but the uncertain and variable 

1 Ibid., XIV, 2. 

1 Ibid., XIV, 4. 

1 Ibid., XV, I. 



and share in the 

handling of it on the modern 
stage demands consideration. 
The diction of tragedy, whether it 
attains its ends through 'that high 
breeding which is the essence of all 
style', or through the delineation 
of character through rhythm; or 
whether its poetic content should 
be unnoticeable, not raised above 
the commonplace these are 
matters of importance. 

A famous critical dictum, which has 
a good deal of bearing on the tragic 
form. Does this barrier of the 
irrational make the 'imitation* of 
religious material impossible? 

action . 

19. The perfection of style is to be 
clear without being mean. The 
clearest style is that which uses 
only current or proper words; at 
the same time it is mean: wit- 
ness the poetry of Cleophon and 
Sthenelus. That diction, on the 
other hand, is lofty and raised 
above the commonplace which 
employs unusual words. 2 

20. Accordingly, the poet should pre- 
fer probable impossibilities to im- 
probable possibilities. The tragic 
plot must not be composed of 
irrational parts. Everything irra- 
tional should, if possible, be ex- 
cluded; or, at all events, it should 
lie outside the action of the play 
. . . not within the drama. 3 

21. Again, in examining whether 
what has been said or done by 
some one is poetically right or 
not, we must not look merely to 
the particular act or saying, and 
ask whether it is poetically good 
or bad. We must also consider by 
whom it is said or done, to whom, 
when, by what means, or for what 
end; whether, for instance, it be 
to secure a greater good, or avert 
a greater evil. 4 


It would, I think, be possible to project all, or all but all, the Aris- 
totelian questions (with their inevitable Platonic background) into time 
and space in such a manner as to show their connections with the 
related problems of the tragic structure and content. But for conveni- 
ence we may offer some of these problems in the following forms: 

I. What bearing, if any, have current ideologies upon the emergence, 

at various periods, of tragedy, and upon its characteristic quality? 

1 Poetics, XVIII, 7. * Ibid., XXII, I. * Ibid., XXIV, 10. * Ibid., XXV, 8, 

A curious statement, which might be 
taken to imply a relativist view of 
morality. What is poetically good or 
bad? And is not this a starting point 
for an aesthetic of drama? 


II. What is the connection of rhetoric (in the true sense) with the 

tragic emotion; bearing in mind the modified attitudes towards 

rhetoric which can be inferred from recent experiments in poetic 

tragedy? * 
HI. What light, if any, does modern psychology or anthropology 

throw on the problem of the response to tragedy: bearing in mind 

the corresponding psychological theories of the Greeks and 

Elizabethans? 2 
IV. What moral connections can still be maintained as tragic values? 

Or does tragedy, as Macneile Dixon would have it, 'turn on a 

different axis*? 
V. What cultural background on the part of his readers or audience 

may now be demanded, imposed or inculcated by the tragic 

VI. How can tragedy, to-day, recover its traditional functions and 


1 I have in mind, Mr Eliot's explanations of the purpose and characteristics of his verse. 
1 We may instance both the Freudian interpretations (Ernst Jones), the 'archetypal* 
approaches (Maud Bodkin). 


Some Historic Solutions 

Tragedy, indeed, carried the thoughts into the mythologic world, in 
order to raise the emotions, the fears, and the hopes, which convince the 
inmost heart that their final cause is not to be discovered in the limits of mere 
mortal life, and forces us into a presentiment, however dim, of a state in 
which those struggles of inward free will with outward necessity, which 
form the true subject of the tragedian, shall be reconciled and solved. 


IN the preceding chapter we suggested a number of the fundamental 
problems concerning the nature of tragedy that appear to have been 
raised by Aristotle. It is no part of the present purpose to attempt 
an historical treatment of them; but in order to carry the discussion 
further, it is convenient to summarize some of the interpretations that 
have been put forward and which would command some measure of 
assent (in whatever form) from dramatic critics to-day. In the pages 
that follow the sections correspond to those under which the questions 
in the preceding chapter were set out. 


i. Imitation. There is no question of the word denoting a flat or 
slavish copy. Any such hypothesis is disproved by the text of the 
Poetics. 2 Admittedly Greek criticism of art as well as of drama has a 
substratum of v raisemblance which approved accurate likenesses. A valu- 
able test of portraiture was the recognitional element: 'Ah, that is he!' 
But the Aristotelian meaning of the word is intricately connected with 
the controversy between Plato and his pupil Aristotle.tlt is sufficient 
for our purposes to note that in the phrase 'Art imitates nature', the 
term nature implies (and assumes) the perception of an order, pattern, 
or harmony in the universe, which the artist, in view of his particular 
sensibility, and synthetic or magical power, is able to seize and to 
express within the limits of the object of imitation!) At the same time, 

1 Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare, p. 10. 

1 For detailed arguments on this point, see, e.g., Margoliouth, pp. 43~4I Butcher, 
pp. 121-62; Lucas, pp. 14-17. 



the overtones of the Greek mimesis are such that we should probably 
require a complex symbol of this order to approximate to its meaning: 

Perception of the General 
among Particulars 


pr > 

The Nature of Things 
perceived as a 

An Element of 
< 'Pretending* or 


Portrayal of such a kind as to 

lead to recognition (Especially 

of Character) 

Imitation of an Action. The word Action is not defined except 
through its qualities. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end; 
conditions which Aristotle defines from a common-sense point of 
view. The work, the play, existed in its own right, its structure follow- 
ing, by analogy, that of a vertebrate. The unity of an action does not 
consist in the unity of the hero: e.g. the episodes of the Odyssey are 
not, as a whole, a unity in virtue of having a hero in common. For the 
moment, an action can be defined as the progress of an individual, with 
his related or ancillary actors, from position A, one of temporary 
stability, to position B; at which he either dies, or becomes involved in 
an entirely new set of circumstances. We can agree with Fergusson * 
that the term 'action' is an analogical concept, and can only be under- 
stood with reference to particular 'actions'. In its broadest sense it 
would cover, not only the 'shape', 'rhythm' and duration of a sequence 
of events, but its components in so far as these are separable into the 
actions of individuals, their speech and characterization, and even the 
dramatist's manipulation of the main action by his selection of 
the setting as well as by his stage directions for it. 2 The power of the 
dramatist to impose formal characteristics on the raw material is almost 

The beginning of an action might thus be perceived as a sort of 
momentary slack water before the turn of the tideTJ At the opening of 
Hamlet there is every indication that, if it were not for the appearance 

1 The Idea of a Theatre, p. 230. 

1 Ibsen's work, particularly as studied by J. R. Northam in Ibsen's Dramatic Technique, 
will illustrate this point. 


of the Ghost, events in Denmark would have settled down into a 
period of rest; Hamlet himself would have gone to Wittenberg, and 
the kingdom enjoyed a period of tranquillity under a sufficiently wise 
and judicious King. Events in A Doll's House are stimulated into 
activity by the forged letter, now emerging, through a combination of 
circumstances, from the past into the present and future. But it is clear 
that in the strict sense no action has a beginning, or an end.^Vll events 
spring from past causation; all continue through time. 'Man is not 
simply in a situation. He is "in" only in the respect that he is just 
emerging out of one situation into anotherrjThe human situation con- 
sists simultaneously of what it is emerging out of and what it is moving 
into/ 1 The methods of providing a link between the Beginning and the 
Past will be discussed in the next chapter. For dramatic purposes there 
is obvious a strong selective and rejecting clement in the playwright's 
'imitation*. An action in time is selected and reorganized in obedience 
to whatever time-scale the dramatist may select. In the process incidents 
may be transposed to provide the desired concentration; the whole will 
be re-focused in terms of the dramatist's personality and tradition, the 
resources of his theatre and actors, and the spirit as well as the problems 
of his age. 2 He must establish a definite relationship between past and 
present; a relationship which (we may suspect) has itself the peculiar 
dream-like qualities of which we are conscious when we attempt to 
analyse this relationship in our own lives. This dream-like aspect 
appears to have some bearing on the use that is made of various aspects 
of the supernatural. 

'Imitation of an Action that is Serious. 9 Endless controversy has 
ranged round this word. It is best translated as something that matters, 
concerned with important values and hence of a permanent character; 
as opposed to what is slight, trivial, transitory, or of the surface. But it 
should not be limited to Matthew Arnold's high seriousness, high and 
excellent seriousness, as suggesting Jahveistic, stoic, 'sublime' or 'grand 
style' values. Eighteenth-century criticism, with a background of 
Poussin, Salvator Rosa and Milton, made the same kind of mistake 
over 'Longinus' and his sublime. 

'. . . Serious, complete and of a certain magnitude.' Complete demands 
a discussion of the nature of finality, and the dramatic value of death as 
a terminal point. A certain magnitude is again defined qualitatively: the 

1 P. Wheelwright, Sewanee Review, Winter, 1953 (p. 58): quoting Juliin Marias. 
1 e.g. the important social and political questions that underly Greek and Elizabethan 


'larger the better, provided that the whole be perspicuous'. This per- 
spicuousness, a capacity for adequate communication and integration 
of the artistic experience, remains a standard criterion; on which 
centres, for example, much of the controversy over Shaw's Back to 
Methuselah. In general, it seems as if this magnitude may be determined 
partly by physiological necessity, partly by an empirically-ascertained 
norm beyond which the audience's attention cannot be satisfactorily 
held, and partly by sheer force of custom which has set up a standard 
'expectation' for the length of a play. 

There is, however, another consideration; that of the length of play 
which is necessary to build up what we may call the tragic momentum. 
This momentum appears to require the following conditions: 

1 . Unless the characters of the protagonists are sufficiently established 
in the known fable there must be sufficient length of development 
in order to enlist the sympathy and interest of the audience. 

2. With the same exception the plot-pattern must be sufficiently long 
to produce the impression of a full, and sufficiently complex, 
pattern in operation. 

3. The establishment of depth, whether through chorus, sub-plot, 
symbolism or language, appears to demand a certain amount of 
space to produce its effect; often by liturgical or repetitive 

It is a debatable question how far a miniature tragedy of the type of 
Riders to the Sea can achieve momentum. The lack of it is possibly to 
blame for the comparative failure of Maeterlinck's work, though the 
extreme subtlety of his medium and his technique of inference from 
the unspoken, is perhaps unfitted, in any event, to the normal theatre. 


. . . through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions. 1 
. . . indirectly through pity and terror righting mental disorders of this type. 2 

It seems arguable that the preferable translation is of this type or of these 
and such-like emotions. This is, perhaps, the most discussed sentence in 
the Poetics t and a starting point for most aesthetic speculations. Mar- 
goliouth quotes from the Politics of Aristotle. 8 

The ailment which befalls some minds severely is to be found in all, only 
differing in intensity; viz. pity, fear and religious excitment: for to this last 

1 Butcher t ran si. * Margoliouth traiisJ. * Op. cit. t p. 57. 


ailment, too, some are liable; and we see that these persons when treated 
with the melodies which ordinarily excite the mind orgiastically kathis- 
tamenoi as though they had undergone the medical operation called 
katharsis. The same must be possible with the pitiful, the timid, and in general 
the emotional, viz. there must be some pleasurable mode of katharsis, i.e. 
being relieved, for all. 

Now katharsis is a medico-psychological term, implying a homoeo- 
pathic treatment. Galen describes it as 'qualitative evacuation of what 
is troublesome'. A regular cure for madness was purgation by vapour 
baths and hellebore. 1 Excess of heat or cold in the black bile is the 
cause of depression and fear. Tragedy appears to be the purgative 
remedy against excessive cold; the external chill drives out the internal 
cause of the malady. 2 y 

Before going a stage further it is well to recall certain aspects of the 
Greek temperament. What evidence we possess suggests that the 
response to tragedy was violent in the extremeflt was in part a reli- 
gious ritual; the chant and dance of the Chorus contained an element 
of stimulation to a state of ecstasy which requires the utmost imagina- 
tive effort to recapture now.^Kitto reminds us of what many readers 
of Greek drama are apt to forget: 

The doctrine of the Mean is characteristically Greek, but it should not 
tempt us to think that the Greek was one who was hardly aware of the 
passions, a safe, anaesthetic, middle-of-the-road man. On the contrary, he 
valued the Mean so highly because he was prone to the extremes. ... He 
sought control and balance because he needed them; he knew the extremes 
only too well. When he spoke of the Mean, the thought of the tuned string 
was never very far from his mind. The Mean did not imply the absence of 
tension and lack of passion, but the correct tension which gives out the true 
and clear note. 4 

The term fear is apt to be somewhat blurred in meaning because of the 
Aristotelian linkage with pity. Aristotle in the Ethics speaks of the 
'nobility of fear*. We may distinguish the following kinds: 

i. Fear or Angst, centred on the individual, in the form of a vague 

1 Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 58. 

1 Cf. Browning, Aristophanes' Apology: 

'The warm spring, traveller, dip thine arms into, 
Brighten thy brow with! Life detests black coldl* 

* Yeats 's insistence on the value of the dance in his miniature plays, and the purity of its 
communication, is of interest here. 

4 H. D. F. Kitto, The Greeks, p. 252. This 'correct tension* may be thought of in con- 
nection with I. A. Richards' s view of the 'balance* resulting from the aesthetic experience. 
See pp. 14, 90, infra. 


general anxiety as to future security. This is perhaps the com- 
monest source of neurotic states. 

2. Fear which arises out of disinterested concern for relatives or 
friends; or in certain cases, for a society or state. 

3. Fear which arises out of confrontation with 

(a) events which contain an element of the inexplicable, such 
as the supra-natural. This includes the element of the numin- 
ous. 'A spirit passed before my face, and the hair of my 
flesh stood up/ 

(t) events (such as ruin or destruction) perceived as awe-ful in 
themselves, probably without specific reference (other than 
that of scale) to ourselves. 

4. Fear which arises out of the recognition, in ourselves, of guilt or 
sin, which we perceive in the actions of others and equate in some 
manner with our own. Questions of the origins of guilt or sin, or 
of present or future judgement, are for the moment irrelevant. 

It seems clear that one or more of these kinds can exist simultaneously 
in the response to tragedy. As regards pity, an interesting and profitable 
definition but one which is a great deal less than Christian is 

True pity consists not so much in fearing suffering as desiring it. The 
desire is a faint one, and we should hardly wish to see it realized; yet we 
form it in spite of ourselves, as if Nature were committing some great 
injustice and it were necessary to get rid of all suspicion of complicity with 
her. 1 

At the same time Bergson carries the development of this emotion 
through a series of stages: from repugnance to fear, from fear to sym- 
pathy, and from sympathy itself to humility. The increasing intensity 
of pity thus consists in a qualitative process. The final stage may be 
thought of as containing some element of the perception of scale; 
humility experienced as a result of comparisons, implicit or explicit, 
with the emotions of the spectator. On the other hand, it should be 
remembered that Kierkegaard regards pity as a form of contempt; and 
while admitting that this may be so, on occasion, we must again regard 
it as 'impure* form, utterly removed from the idea of the Christian 

At this stage it is desirable to attempt to summarize the main inter- 
pretations that have been placed on katharsis. 

1 Time and Free Will, transl. F. L. Pogson, p. 19. 


A. The 'Jyful Safety* Theory, as stated by Freytag. 1 

The spectator's tears flow more easily and his mouth twitches more 
readily than in ordinary life; yet this pain is accompanied with a 
vigorous sense of pleasure; after the fall of the curtain, in spite of the 
effort of attending for hours, (!)|he feels an intensification of vital 
power, his eye sparkles, his step is elastic, every movement is firm and 
free. His agitation has been succeeded by a feeling of joyful safety.) 

Part of this description is summed up in a cruder formulation: 
'There but for the Grace of God go I.' 

jB. The Theory of Balanced Forces: best summarized by I. A. 
Richards, and consonant with his aesthetic theory. In brief, Pity 
is the impulse to advance, Fear is the impulse to retreat. When 
both are experienced a system of balance replaces the existing 
emotional excess. This theory is attractive, but breaks down as 
soon as we admit into the tragic range emotions other than Pity 
and Fear. And I think they must be so admitted. At the same time, 
Richards appears to be ready to admit a wider range provided 
that these two emotions remain as dominants. 

The extraordinarily stable experience of Tragedy, which is capable 
of admitting almost any other impulses so long as the relation of the 
main components is exactly right, changes at once if these are 
altered. . . . Tragedy is perhaps the most general, all-accepting, all- 
ordering experience known ... It is invulnerable; there is nothing 
which does not present to the tragic attitude when fully developed a 
fitting aspect and only a fitting aspect. 2 

Richards' s whole account of the tragic response is of great 
importance, and we shall return to it later. 

C. James Joyce's Theory has connection with that of Richards, but 
is a philosophical rather than a psychological formulation. 

Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatso- 
ever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the 
human sufferer. 3 

Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of what- 
soever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the 
secret cause. 

1 Teknik des Dramas. Quoted Margoliouth, op. cit., pp. 154-5. 

* Principles of Literary Criticism, p. 247. 

* We may compare with this Miguel de Unamuno: 'For to love is to pity; and if bodies 
are united by pleasure, souls are united by pain.' The Tragic Sense of Life, p. 135. 


The tragic emotion, in fact, is a face looking two ways, towards 
terror and towards pity, both of which are phases of it. You see I used 
the word arrest. I mean the tragic emotion is static. Or rather the 
dramatic emotion is. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, 
desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; 
loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which 
excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. 
The aesthetic emotion (I used the general term) is therefore static. 
The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing. 1 

D. The 'Inoculation' Theory: that is, that tragedy provides small and 
harmless doses of passions which can be indulged in harmlessly 
in the theatre, whereas they might become dangerous obsessions 
in the world of reality. As a variant of this, tragedy may be seen 
as a kind of ritual prophylaxis. If we enact the evil thing often 
enough, it will not happen. 

E. The 'Reduction to Scale* Theory: the spectator, witnessing 
large-scale suffering and catastrophes on the stage, is made aware 
of the tiny scale of his own emotions, and hence perceives them 
in proportion. The best-known formulation is in Browning's 
Aristop hanes ' Apology : 

Small rebuked by large 
We felt our puny hates refine to air, 
Our prides as poor prevent the humbling hand, 
Our petty passion purify its tide. 

This is, in many ways, an attractive solution, and one to which 
individual experience lends some support. At the conclusion of a 
tragedy which has produced a full response we seem momentarily 
stunned, and often desire to be peaceful and silent for a time. A 
complex readjustment of values seems to take place. In par- 
ticular, there is a tendency to modify the leaning towards self- 
pity, or vanity, which no doubt Aristotle would have included 
among the Vicious' emotions. We have been enabled to see 
ourselves as individuals in proportion against a larger pattern. A 
similar therapeutic value is found in mountaineering, sailing, and 
such occupations which confront man with the immense, the 
permanent, the fearful. 'Fear is God's Grace.' 

F. Sadistic-Masochistic Theories! These are considered in a sub- 

^ rpi c u j r j-ru f sequent chapter, The Shadow 

G. The Schadenfreude Theory I / i m 

J of the Pleasure. 

1 A Portrait of the Artist (1924), pp. 232-3. 


H. Myth-Ritual Theories These are also considered in the 

chapter of that title. 
/. The theory which I shall call Lucas's Theory. It is given as the 

conclusion of Chapter II of his Tragedy. 1 1 have selected certain 

sentences in an attempt to state his case. 

The function of tragedy is simply and solely to give a certain sort 
of pleasure, to satisfy in certain ways our love of beauty and of truth, 
of truth to life and about it. 2 

Life is fascinating to watch, whatever it may be to experience. And 
so we go to tragedies not in the least to get rid of emotions, but to 
have them more abundantly; to banquet, not to purge. 8 

To be 'tragic', however, the experience must have in addition a 
certain peculiar quality 'must', not for moral or philosophical 
reasons, but because if the experience were not of that kind, we should 
use a different word for it. It is a matter of vocabulary, not of meta- 
physics. Some other forms of Art may be merely beautiful; by 
Tragedy, I think, we imply also something fundamentally true to life. 
It need not be the whole truth, but it must be true. 4 

It is dangerous to generalize LOO precisely about the spirit of 
tragedy; but we can say that there the problem of evil and suffering 
is set before us; often it is not answered, but always there is something 
that makes it endurable. 5 

Now we may agree with Lucas's remarks in their entirety without 
necessarily holding that there is no kathartic effect. The fact that the 
achieving of such an effect was neither the overt intention of the 
dramatist, nor the object of the spectator in going to the theatre, is 
irrelevant to the consideration of what the response may be, whether 
historically, or in the present. As in so many instances the response is 
certain toHbe highly complex; 6 it may well contain elements of most of 
the explanations offered above. Nor is Lucas's view so divergent from 
the tradition as at first appears. If we banquet on emotions the image 
of that and of the alternative purge is not quite applicable we shall 

1 Hogarth Press, 1927. I am indebted, as every writer on the subject must be, to the 
scholarship and sanity of this book. 

1 Ibid., p. 51. 8 Ibid., p. 52. * Ibid., pp. 52-3. 

8 Ibid., pp. 56-7. This view suggests a modification of Stoicism. 

* 'When we respond to Hamlet or Lear, countless emotions are embodied in the 
aesthetic impression which the tragic developments -of these plays make upon us. These 
emotions do not arise directly out of the Tragic as such, but are part of the whole tragic 
impression . . .' Volkelt, Acsthetik des Tragischen, p. 268. 


presumably exhaust our capacity or appetite for such emotions, for 
some time at least. 1 

A further discussion of the pleasure-aspect is reserved for a subsequent 

There is one word in the quotation from the Politics 2 which has 
received little attention. Aristotle speaks of emotions being purged 
orgiastically. The implication is that of a violent spasm or shock re- 
action: not unlike the various kinds of shock treatment now employed 
in psychotherapy. We need not presuppose that such a spasm will 
always be evident in the theatre, as it was among the women who 
viewed the performance of the Eumenides. But it is possible that there 
may be some sudden recognition, among the audience as on the stage, 
that amounts to a complete rcorientation of personality through power- 
ful emotional shock. Some analogy with this orgiastic 'shock' may be 
found in modern electrical or insulin treatment for depressive disorders. 
Among the results we find an obliteration of memory in so far as it 
relates to the period leading up to the illness, and an emotional exhaus- 
tion which passes slowly. The mind is then ready to receive fresh 
perceptions, and to readjust them in a new pattern of values. 

Aristotle stresses repeatedly the importance ofj)loj. The Greek 
dramatist, working on a known fable, selected and re-timed the pro- 
gress of his protagonists between Points A and B. The plot is the rail- 
way-line over which the trucks pass. Those trucks may be, in theory, 
empty; hence Aristotle's peculiar statement that there may be a plot 
without Character, a dictum to which no critic would subscribe to-day. 

There are certain commonplaces to note at the outset. The characters 
in a Greek drama are far more definitely 'fixed' as typical figures, both 
because of the nearness of their sources, the conventions of the stage, 3 
and the selection of the action at its point of ripeness: whichMeft little 
room to show character-development by its reaction to a wide range 
of circumstances. Further, if the classical drama had included character 
delineation on any intricate scale, it would have tended to obscure the 
clear-cut issues raised by the plot. In other words, the enclosing net is 
more strictly defined; the amount of freewill given is minimized in 

1 Dame Sybil Thorndike has said that she never slept so well as when she was playing 
in Grand Guignol. 

1 p. u, supra. 

8 Notably the religious character of the whole performance, the masked actors, and 
the presence of the Chorus. 


comparison with the illusion of freedom, which the five-act Eliza- 
bethan form can give. 

The relationship between Plot and Character is one of the most 
fascinating aspects of dramatic history. To-day we regard them as far 
more closely interwoven than Aristotle would have done, since we do 
not admit the possibility of a 'good' man engaging in evil actions, or 
the reverse. Further, we are divided as to the possibility of belief in 
the classic concept of temperament, the natural endowments of per- 
sonality, and character as the modification of temperament by the 
will, or by virtue, or^^rBaps by 'the Christian concept of grace. It is 
IrTfact a species rof fatalism, or at worst a line of defence, to fall back 
on temperament as determined by heredity and environment to ex- 
plain the evil that we do, or even to exculpate ourselves from responsi- 
bility. In this respect it is important to remember the Elizabethan 
concern, in terms of their psychology, with types who were tempera- 
mentally prone to psychological aberrations (e.g. the Jealous, the 
Wrathful, the Choleric) and whose failure to achieve a balance through 
the cultivation of virtue is a precipitating cause of catastrophe. 1 


Reversal and Recognition. These arc the leading tests, in Aristotle's 
view, of the dramatist's artistic competence: they arc, primarily, the 
results of his skill in re-timing and reorganizing of the plot. The 
reversal arises when the action which we take to safeguard ourselves 
betrays us and brings about our downfall. The recognition comes when 
we realize how we have been deluded (this is the mental kind); or 
when in a physical demonstration, we recognize by material evidence 
that a thing is so. In the one case there is an awakening from the 'strong 
delusion' that has brought us to belief in the lie; in the second, a physical 
event produces a specific kind of knowledge. 2 

Now there are three ways in which a man comes to misfortune: 

(a) By the action of his enemies. This is not tragic, for he should have 
been forewarned against them. 3 (There is a limited sense in which 
ignorance may produce a slight flavour of tragedy: as when, for 

1 See, e g., L. B. Campbell's Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, and R. L. Anderson, Elizabethan 
Psychology and Shakespeare's Plays. 

a As, for example, the lock of hair on the tomb in the Choephoroe, by which Elektra 
recognizes her brother. 

8 He may, however, if his enemies are those of his state, be left without possibility 
of defence or evasion. 


example, a peaceful and respected king is murdered by a mad- 
man, under circumstances which could not have been foreseen.) 

(i) By sheer chance. This is not in itself tragic, though popular 
usage tries to make it so. (On the other hand, chance may 
shade into some form of pattern, Aristotle's 'air of design'; par- 
ticularly through such repetition as Hardy uses in his novels and 
short stories. 1 ) 

(c) By the action which we take to safeguard ourselves, or to ensure 
that we pursue a particular course of action without danger to 
ourselves or to others. 


The length of the plot. No one can quarrel with Aristotle's demand 
for perspicuity in the drama; though we may note that Elizabethan 
practice appears at times to work toward a deliberate sense of confu- 
sion, often suggesting a corresponding response to the events taking 
place on the stage. (Certain critics of King Lear and of Antony and 
Cleopatra stress this aspect of these plays). His idea of magnitude prob- 
ably has religious and ethical overtones, quite apart from the question 
of the plot-dimensions. 

Of modern drama we can say that 

1. It appears to demand a certain length in order to bring the Past 
into alignment with the Present, for the purpose of developing 

2. A certain element of preparation is necessary before the audience 
can warm up to 'the willing suspension of disbelief*. 

3. Sympathy with the characters, and understanding of them, cannot 
be built up rapidly, since the lights must be turned on them from 
different angles. 

4. Reversal and recognition arc definite points in a dramatic rhythm. 
The plot cannot be hurried if the formal qualities of structure are 
to be perceived in their microcosmic significance. 2 

The exceptions are perhaps to be found when 

1. The groundwork of the plot is so simple, or so familiar, as to 
demand little exploration. 

2. The action proceeds so rapidly, and is so much more important 
than the character, that no development of the latter need take 

1 The problem of the admissibibty of chance is discussed later. * See Chapter 3. 


In theory, these conditions are fulfilled when a plot is taken at its 
climax. But in general it seems as if the momentum which gives the 
full illusion requires the conventional length; which is partly the pro- 
duct of custom, partly (we may suspect) the result of physical and 
psychological limitations. 

One action and that a whole. No action can be said, speaking accur- 
ately, to have initial and terminal points; nor, it is suggested, can any 
action be completely isolated in time and space. Perhaps the best image 
is that of a funnel or cone, representing the notional limits of the 
action. Within the cone, the separate threads of the action progress; 
Past meeting the Present, coalescing with it, a number of separate plot 
strands converging and narrowing to the end. I shall suggest later that 
it is the character of the end which gives the plot its distinctive quality 
of a symmetrical narrowing or focusing; and that the end in its turn is 
present in the structure, language, and imagery of the play. 

A more philosophical and a higher thing than history; for poetry tends to 
express the universal, history the particular. 

This sentence is the nucleus, as it were, of an infinity of controversy: 1 
not only as to the qualities and function of drama, but those of poetry 
in general. It interlocks with other statements in the Poetics as part of 
the general refutation of the Platonic propositions that poetry is twice 
removed from reality. 

I do not wish to recapitulate the historical arguments that have 
centred on this passage. On it hang the 'golden world' of Sir Philip 
Sidney, the many definitions on 'Nature' in Augustan literary theory, 
the metaphysics of Coleridge. It is sufficient to point out two things. 
The term 'a more philosophical and a higher thing' <f>iAooo(f>d)Te()ov 
KOI anovdai6reQOV should be taken as relating to the poetic state- 
ment of those elements in the past, as re-presented by the dramatist, 
which can be shown in a significant relationship to the present and 
future. For if Epic, Myth, Fable or History, representing as they did 
the religious and cultural heritage of the Greeks, were a living and 
continuous force in the present, the business of the dramatist was to 
communicate them so that, in the pattern of their interrelationships, 

1 An admirable historical consideration is to be found in J. Bronowski's The Poet's 


they formed as it were components or facets of a total sum of wisdom. 
Poetry was not to be moulded into any formal philosophy; since a 
connected framework of beliefs belonged to others. It was only to 
be more philosophical than history: 'history* being perceived quite 
wrongly, but understandably for the purpose of the argument as the 
record of/act. It was to be a 'higher* thing more intense, more signi- 
ficant partly because its object was to impart this wisdom, partly 
because poetry could excise the trivial or superfluous detail perceived 
in the flat mirror of history. In all its functions the traditional manner 
and materials supported this activity. The myth or fable could often be 
seen in a certain perspective as concerning political or social problems 
in contemporary Athens. The disorders of the State could be perceived 
as mirrored in a past event, and achieve a certain scale or dignity, or 
even a solution, by that comparison. (We may consider, as some kind 
of parallel, the significance of Richard II in 1601, the interest in that 
play and in Richard of Bordeaux at the time of the abdication of King 
Edward VIII, the relevance of Julius Caesar to the regime of Mussolini.) 
Reference to the past, by myth, epic, genealogy, and by genealogical 
or geographical synonyms, was rich and continuous. In such a context 
Aristotle's statement is clear. 

This concern with a world in transition, the attempt to relate past 
and present, appears to be a continuing aspect of tragedy. 


. . . What has happened is manifestly possible, otherwise it would not have 

In the Poetics the apparent glimpses of the obvious are always worth 
considering. The adherence of the Greeks to the material of myth, 
fable, epic and ballad gave a particular sanction, weight and foreknow- 
ledge to the whole structure of the drama. Any miraculous or super- 
natural events, if they had happened, were possible. In our own time 
we can note one kind of advantage enjoyed by writers using religious 
or Biblical subjects, and the varying degrees of success achieved by, 
say, Murder in the Cathedral compared with John Drinkwater*s Abraham 
Lincoln. There are probably advantages in using material so well 
known, yet so inaccurately chronicled, that liberties may be taken with 
regard to the plot without any sense of misuse of holy writ. 

It is also enlightening to compare the Greek attitude to the Homeric 
legends, with, say, the Elizabethan attitude to Holinshed or Plutarch. 
Antony and Cleopatra stands as a story familiar in broad outline to the 


audience, but which lent itself to alteration in a variety of ways without 
any sense of distress to them. A fable which has a vague popular basis 
probably offers the best prospects to the dramatist; the story has 
popular sanction, is received unhesitatingly as having happened; yet 
is not too intractable to be remoulded completely. 

In the circumstances, it is surprising that there are so few good his- 
torical tragedies, and such an inordinate number of bad ones; though 
the badness can often be explained as in the work of the Romantic 
Movement by a slavish adherence to the Elizabethan-Jacobean form, 
and to an archaic technique which was utterly alien to contemporary 

* x 

Of all plots the epeisodic are the worst. 

The epeisodic plot is one composed of fortuitous incidents which do 
not conform, as a composite whole, to any coherent pattern. In order 
to achieve this coherence the sequence must be 'necessary' or 'prob- 
able'. Events are classified under four groups: 

i. The necessary, 
t-rif * 11 

j. i ii\^ nv-i^ooai v . 

2. The probable. 

3. The improbable but possible. 

4. The impossible. 

according as they happen always, generally, occasionally, or never. 

Now the necessary can always be accounted for, either in terms of the 
fulfilment of a prophecy, or in a tragedy which adheres strictly either 
to past history, or to fable accepted by the audience as historical; 'for 
what has happened is credible, otherwise it would not have happened*. 
Both Oedipus and Julius Caesar have their firm roots in history; 
though Thornton Wilder's introduction to The Ides of March shows 
the foreshortening in time that was necessary for the purposes of that 
ingenious plot. 

The probable* can be surmised; given the initial factors and some 
information as to the Past-Present relationship at the outset of the play. 
Both the necessary and the probable imply that the scheme of events can 
be reduced to an intelligible system. Coleridge noted that Shake- 
speare's greatness lay, in part, in his use of expectation in preference to 

The improbable but possible, and the impossible, are grouped together 
in opposition to the first two types of events. They are TO fiXoyor, the 


illogical or irrational element in things. But the improbable possible is 
so important in the structure of tragedy as to require discussion. 


The place of accident in tragedy. 

We can say in general that accident is admissible in tragedy, and 
indeed in all drama, under the following conditions: 

(a] Provided it is used as an accelerating, and not a determining 
factor: that is, if a given situation would arise out of given char- 
acters and plot, but later rather than sooner, then it is legitimate 
to make use of chance to bring the particular situation within 
the time-place scale of the play. 

(fc) Provided it is used in conformity with a recognizable rhythm in 
the play: that is, if the 'coincidences have an air of design'. This 
design usually produces the impression of outside powers taking 
a hand in the game. The star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet 
remain star-crossed till the end; so that the various malignant 
coincidences are, as it were, awaited by the audience. The Eliza- 
bethan and Jacobean practice of supplying sub-titles to amplify 
the plays may have emphasized this expectation. 

(c) Provided the dramatist can disguise, or gloss over, the improb- 
ability of the event. The classical instance of this is Hamlet and 
the pirate-ship. 

Thomas Rymer is known for his perversity as a Shakespearian 
critic, but his remarks on the dropping of Desdemona's handkerchief 
will serve to illustrate the different uses of accident. Rymer attacks the 
whole incident; why is so remote a trifle given so important a function? 
Presumably there is a moral connected with it. 'This may be a warning 
to all good wives, that they may look to their linen/ The jest, to the 
Restoration reader, is sufficiently apparent; but the various functions 
of the handkerchief are of some interest. 

As it stands in the play, we may regard it as an accelerating factor in 
the plot. Given the plot and characters, the handkerchief merely brings 
matters to a head. It serves to precipitate Othello's jealous seizure; it 
also shows Desdemona another side of her husband's barbaric super- 
stition the only way of accounting for the value he places upon it 
and this leaves Desdemona still more bewildered and more incapable 
than ever of dealing rationally with the whole situation. 

But we can imagine other situations; one in which the dropping of 


the handkerchief and its recovery provided the sole motive for Othello's 
jealousy. In this case it would be pure and, dramatically speaking, 
unjustified accident. 

Alternatively, Desdemona's enemies might have noticed in her an 
innate carelessness, manifested in the tendency to lose handkerchiefs; a 
failing symptomatic of a levity, perhaps, akin to that of Milton's Eve; 
a tragic flaw perhaps to be compared with Cordelia's tactlessness. To 
her enemies, then, the loss of the handkerchief would have appeared a 
likely accident, and Rymer's criticism would have contained a shadow 
of truth. 

We can imagine also a situation in which Desdemona is aware from 
the outset of the magical properties of the handkerchief, as a pledge of 
faithfulness. In such a case it would have acquired a high symbolic 
value, preparing the minds of the audience for the tragic consequences 
of its loss. 

As a further case we can imagine some oracular doom pronounced 
on Desdemona's life which had warned her to beware of handkerchiefs. 
She had, in spite of the curse, accepted the gift against her own judge- 
ment. It therefore became heavy with destiny, and its loss a prelude to 

In any of these cases we are removed from the realms of accident into 
those of the necessary and probable. 


The Flaw. Aristotle has eliminated the non-tragic cases: it remains to 
consider what he means by error or frailty. 
Macneile Dixon is typically frank: 

* Whether it means a moral or intellectual error, of the heart or head, 
no one has yet discovered . . .' 

As a short answer I suggest that it may be, in different tragedies, 
either; or both combined. 1 Consider first some of the explanations. 

(a) As applied to a single act, it denotes an error due to inadequate 
knowledge of particular circumstances. 2 These circumstances are, 
strictly, such as might have been known. This kind of error intro- 
duces an element of guilt; as, for example, when a military com- 
mander chooses to disregard the intelligence available to him. 

(b) As applied to unavoidable ignorance, or 'misfortune'. 3 In these 

1 Both moral and intellectual error appear to be involved in Oedipus. 

* Butcher, Aristotle's Theory of Poetic and Fine Art, pp. 317-18. 8 Ibid., p. 318. 


cases the error is blind; and raises the secondary question; how 
far the individual is to be held responsible for his ignorance. A 
consideration of the ignorance of Othello suggests that we are 
driven back from this point into psychological assessments of 
character, race and environment; and thence to problems which 
involve psychology and criminology. 

(c) The fault or error where the act is conscious and intellectual but 
not deliberate. 1 This suggests at once the moral questions raised 
by, e.g., crime passionnel. 

(d) A defect of character proper; 2 the joint in the harness, the vulner- 
able spot in the body; the flaw which is not in itself vicious, and 
which will only become vulnerable and destructive through the 
'unfortunate* setting of the tragedy. The matter is not simplified 
for the modern reader by the absence in Greek thought of any- 
thing approaching the Christian doctrine of intention, though it 
is true that a clear-cut distinction exists between culpable and 
innocent ignorance. 3 But the fact what had happened, and was 
credible, otherwise it would not have happened was part of 
the pattern of things, of the inevitable structure of events. The 
doer must suffer. It is true that the full rigour of retribution may 
be averted by the god from the machine, or by vicarious 
sacrifices; but this compromise appears alien to the full tragic 

Some further developments of the tragic character arc suggested in 
the chapters The Ethical Problem and Let Mans Souk be a Spheare. 

1 Ibid., p. 319. * Ibid,, p. 319. 

8 Sikes, The Greek View of Poetry, p. 141, quoting Ethics, N. 111, 2. 


The Structure of Tragedy 

Memory and imagination give the past and future a shape, contemplative 
awareness of them reduces their power over us or at any rate over that part 
which matters most Thus metaphorically we can say that human existence, 
so far as we live it on the human level, is an interweaving not only of 
moment with moment, but of the transiency of moments with the perm- 
anency of that which sustains us in their passage, 


Given a description of an isolated part of the physical universe in the 
most complete terms that have physical meaning, that is, down to the 
smallest elements of which our physical operations give us cognizance, 
then the future history of the system is' determined within a Igrowing 
penumbra of uncertainty, this penumbra growing broader as we penetrate 
to finer details of the structure of the system or as time goes on, until 
eventually all but certain very general properties of the original system, 
such as its total energy, are forever lost in the haze, and we have a system 
which was unpredictable. 


IF we accept this first statement provisionally, as a definition, we have 
to consider a sequence of events in space and time, isolated from the 
past except in so far as the dramatist desires to show a connection with 
the past, and terminated upon an object which is perceived as a con- 
vergent point of that sequence and of its ancillary sequences. Such 
actions are confined within a formal space-time framework. While the 
framework has definite aesthetic qualities, and can be shown to possess 
qualities for which the light and shade, massing and colour, of a picture 
provide the roughest of analogies, it is never susceptible of satisfactory 
analysis. In its specific quality of an action subjected to the process of 
imitation it must possess the attribute of completeness or wholeness 
which the latter term implies. 

In this system the unity of action, which is the only unity that 
Aristotle postulates as a law of tragedy, is felt rather than perceived; 
not as something peculiar to tragedy, but an essential of all aesthetic 
form. * "Unity of action" is not properly a rule, but in itself the great 
end, not only of the drama, but of the epic, lyric, even to the candle- 
flame of an epigram not only of poetry, but of poesy in general, as 

1 The Burning Fountain, p. u, * The Logic of Modern Physics, p. 210. 



the proper generic term inclusive of all the fine arts, as its species.' 1 
In the Poetics it is defined negatively: it does not consist in the Unity of 
the Hero. It is recognizable in the manner by which the action is 
artistically completed, even though that completion can have only an 
aesthetic validity. Within its peculiar form, elements which are appar- 
ently discordant or incongruous can be seen to be coexistent with the 
unity of action; provided that they can be perceived, at some stage 
during the tragedy, or even after its conclusion, as subseryinga single 
specific end. In rare instances they may juxtapose a number ofHiscFele 
oiTicterogeneous experiences or images in such a manner that they can 
be seen to illustrate a common thesis or idea. In certain tragedies, as 
we shall suggest later, the heterogeneous can be carried to a point 
where the Irrational must be perceived as an aspect of the 'imitation*. 

Any such sequence or system will rely to a greater or less extent on 
the events preceding it. The implication of the past in the present will 
vary directly in accordance with the dramatist's stage tradition and his 
mechanical resources, and the conditions that differentiate, say, the 
Greek from the Elizabethan drama in this respect are commonplaces of 
dramatic criticism. What is, perhaps, less frequently stressed is the bear- 
ing of the past-present relationship on the metaphysical content of 
tragedy. It is probably true to say that the greater the proportion of 
'past' that is allowed to impinge upon, or to modify, the present, the 
easier it is to give the impression of a rigid or semi-rigid structure 
enclosing the action, and the larger the apparent content of deter- 
minism. Where the past is common property, as m mythology or 
religion or the better-known historical events, it has, paradoxically, a 
number of apparently contradictory effects. While it frees the dramatist 
from the need for extended exposition, it gives less play to his pro- 
tagonists in their relationships. The common symbols which he uses 
may liberate the imagination of his audience; but unless his use of them 
is both subtle and arresting he will run the risk of a failure of com- 
munication. If he wishes to present a deterministic pattern with what- 
ever modifications, such as might be found in a spiral rather than in 
a repetitional interpretation of history he will show the past linked 
to, or dependent from, the continuous present of the play. Such 
technique is common in Ibsen's plays. 

If it then be accepted, for the moment, that the basis of tragedy is an 
action, a sequence of events in time related to an object, or complex of 
objects, which is capable of being perceived as a termination of that 
1 Coleridge: cit. Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theatre, p. 4. 


particular sequence, the problem of the tragic playwright would appear 
to be to refract, condense, and reorganize that experience in accordance 
with certain empirical laws. The method of the reorganization will 
depend on the limitations of the theatre for which it is designed, the 
crudities inherent in the communication by the spoken word, and the 
particular intention of the dramatist. This last, again, is probably highly 
complicated; in its simplest form it may be Tendenz-drama (such as 
that of Hauptmann), religious or pseudo-religious, or mere entertain- 
ment-pleasure; though this will in turn become 'impure' under the 
stimulus of the poetic excitement, the 'inspiration', which is fired by 
the frictions set up in the structural hinges of the tragedy. 

To symbolize this structure we can modify such well-known figures 
as the isosceles triangle of Frey tag's Cone into the upper half of an oval 
figure, 1 so that the 'action' can be conceived as curvilinear. It is, almost 
certainly, perceived in relation to a norm, implicit or explicit in the 
tragedy; and the norm is often conveyed by such characters as Kent, 
Enobarbus or Horatio, or in a more subtle manner by Ranke of A 
Doll's House. In the lower half of the oval we may sometimes perceive 
a complementary, or counterpointing, curve or curves; in its simplest 
form that of a sub-plot, giving depth and meaning to the upper curve; 
and presenting at its most involved the symbols and imagery which 
serve among other ends to produce this particular effect. 

We are then left to consider the two terminal points of our schematic 
oval or perhaps egg-shaped figure. At first sight its end presents no 
particular difficulty, though we shall find later that the conventional 
aspects of the 'end* involve certain assumptions about, or attitudes 
towards, the nature of death. The 'beginning', however, must be a 
point which at first sight appears arbitrary. For example, it may seem 
natural to question, as did Gordon Bottomley, 2 what train of events 
preceded the strange and violent openings of Lear, or of Othello: die 
Messenger or the Watchman of Greek Drama have much to tell in a 
manner which may appear to be tedious, but which has in fact im- 
portant epic and ritualistic aspects in relation to the antecedent action 
and its national implications. These aspects are shared by the audience 
as intimately as the audience of Henry V may be thought of as sharing 
the glory of Agincourt. 3 We maybe confronted with the need to inter- 
pret plays in altogether differing ways according as to whether we take 

1 Cf. 'Bergson's theory that a concept of time, as distinguished from pure experience 
of it is, always built on a space-like model.' (Philip Wheelwright, Sewanee Review, 
LXI, i, p. 58.) 

1 In the play King Lear's Wife. * As well as the topical interest of Essex* expedition. 


them singly or as components of a trilogy. There is no action that may 
not be seen to start ab ovo, traced back and back to its origins. In what 
sense, then, is there a 'beginning'? 

We may suppose, for convenience, a universe in which the stream 
of events, though in reality continuous, is apprehended as falling into 
groups. This process is familiar to the historian. Events tend to group 
themselves in clusters, time-sequences in which the seriousness of the 
issues arising from them appear to be intensified. The history of the 
House of Atreus, of Coriolanus, or of Rosmer shows such a grouping, 
and the 'beginning* appears to be the point at which the wheel has 
momentarily slowed down preparatory to an acceleration under the 
impact of some unforeseen stimulus, the fall of Troy or the coming 
of a ghost. 

The conical or pyramidal development of complication, crisis, and 
resolution, familiar in all expositions of dramatic theory, appears to be, 
generally speaking, valid, though it must be interpreted in different 
minor curves for each play. The 'action* is scaled down, reorganized, 
re-timed into the plot; which must undertake, more or less simul- 
taneously, three tasks. 

1. It must reveal the effect and pressure of the past upon the pre- 
sent and future. But it must not do this with too palpable a 
design. Nietzsche has put the matter forcefully: 'The Aeschyleo- 
Sophoclean tragedy employed the most ingenious devices in the 
first scenes to place in the hands of the spectators as if by chance 
all the threads requisite for understanding the whole: a trait in 
which that noble artistry is approved, which as it were 'masks the 
inevitably formal, and causes it to appear as something accidental'. 1 

2. It must establish the characters in a relationship, first of potential 
and then of actual conflict or tension. 

3. It must show in this conflict a rhythm, 2 which in turn probably 
has these aspects: 

(a) the recognition of the similarity of the rhythm either to an 

1 The Birth of Tragedy, p. 99. 

* There are clearly aspects of rhythm and of structure in drama that have never been 
adequately explored, but which are of importance in the tragic effect. The accelerations 
and retardations of the action and of the pace of the speech can be noted in a few separate 
aspects, but cannot be explained, as organic wholes, on the different levels at which they 
are distributed. As potent, but as much beyond the power of analysis, is the musical 
pattern of verse drama, which, since it is itself its own direct mode of communication, is 
not susceptible of other statement. Only in a small-scale one-act verse tragedy one may 
sometimes feel that the sense of this musical pattern is within one's grasp. 


actual, or imagined, rhythm in life. 1 This similarity is often 
emphasized, or made credible, either by deliberate sym- 
bolism (Ibsen's Master Builder), by a repetitive pattern link- 
ing past and present (Ghosts) or by an emphasis on certain 
aspects of common life; which may in their turn be per- 
ceived as a direct, or ironic, commentary on the events of 
the main plot. 

(b) a stimulus to accept certain complicated propositions, con- 
scious and unconscious, in the poetry, imagery, symbolism. 

(c) a calculated increase in the emotional or intellectual excite- 
ment, achieved by the imposition of a steadily-mounting 
series of 'peaks' within the main oval or conical structure. 

It seems probable that the artistic finality of a tragedy is to be ex- 
plained in terms of a combination of these factors. But the plot does 
not merely seek to impose order upon event-sequences as motivated by 
the past and by character; it relies for its effect on a series of statements 
concerned, in the broadest terms, withjtnoral philosophy. Such state- 
ments may be explicit, as in the tedious morality of the Scnecan drama, 
or implicit in the dramatist's attitude or in his poetic statement; more 
commonly, perhaps, they are to be found in a series of opposing state- 
ments or paradoxes, which we may regard as the poles of a morality 
which is, as it were, projected outside our immediate consciousness of 
the work, and which can only be apprehended as a moving point in 
rime. And these contradictions or paradoxes may become, as in King 
Lear, a vital part of the conflicting rhythms of plot and character. The 
provisional answers to the question 'What rules the world?' arc given 
differently by Edmund, Gloucester, Kent, Edgar and Lear: for the 
reader, perhaps even for the audience, it is completed only by his own 
extended response itself modified by the individual acceptance or 
rejection of (for example) the symbolism to the total statement of 
the play. Such a response seems to be projected as a moving and 
growing conception, developing itself in space and time, and there- 
fore capable of fruitful re-interpretation in successive periods of 

But the plot must also be designed to offer a quality which has been 
variously discussed in terms of 'depth', 'universality', 'empathy', and 
so on. The dramatist's problem is to extend the significance of the play 

1 It seems arguable that there are, in fact,/u>o rhythms in a play, that which the dramatist 
imposes in accordance with his own perception of order, and a secondary rhythm re- ' 
suiting from the interaction of his characters (in so far as they 'talk themselves into life'). 


beyond that of an individual or domestic system of references. Such 
extension is readily available in various kinds of 'fable*, where their 
very character presupposes a significance beyond the immediate per- 
sonalities involved. To the Greek city state the death of the hero was 
an event of immense importance for its welfare and safety: and we 
need not, at present, go beyond the political considerations into those 
of anthropology. The death of Oedipus, or Creon, or Hippolytus will 
serve as example; while the problems of kingship and succession raised 
by Richard II needed no emphasis. But any Table* limited, whether 
intrinsically or by the passing of time, to narrowly historical or personal 
interests, must be so handled as to provide some quality of universality. 
The most convenient summary is given in W. 13. Yeats's essay The 
Emotion of Mu Ititudc : 

The Greek drama has got the emotion of multitude from its chorus, which 
called up famous sorrows, even all the gods and all heroes to witness, as it 
were, some well-ordered fable, some action separated but for this from all but 
itself. The French play delights in the well-ordered fable, but by leaving out 
the chorus it has created an art where poetry and imagination, always the 
children of far-off multitudinous things, must of necessity grow more im- 
portant than the mere will. This is why, I said to myself, French dramatic 
poetry is so often rhetorical, for what is rhetoric but the will trying to do the 
work of the imagination? The Shakespearean Drama grts the emotion of 
multitude out of the sub-plot which copies the mam plot, much as a shadow 
upon the wall copies one's body in the firelight. We think of King Lear less 
as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil 
time. Lear's shadow is Gloster, who also has ungrateful children, and the 
mind goes on imagining other shadows, shadow beyond shadow, till it has 
pictured the whole world. In Hamlet one hardly notices, so subtly is the web 
woven, that the murder of Hamlet's father and the sorrow of Hamlet are 
shadowed m the lives of Fortmbras and Ophelia and Laertes, whose fathers, 
too, have been killed. It is so in all the plays, or in all but all, and very 
commonly the sub-plot is the mam plot working itself out in more ordinary 
men and women, and so doubly calling up before us the image of multitude. 
Ibsen and Maeterlinck have on the other hand created a new form, for they 
get multitude from the wild duck in the attic, or from the crown at the 
bottom of the fountain, vague symbols that set the mind wandering from 
idea to idea, emotion to emotion. 1 

Though we need not at once subscribe to all the values implied in 
this extract, it appears that the main contention is sound. For the 

1 Essays, pp. 265-6. 


'archetypal' fables require (whether because of their familiarity or 
because of their correspondence to archetypal psychological patterns) 
no more shadow-work than is strictly proper to them. Less familiar 
fables, such as those of Sejanus, Aureng-Zebe, Hernani, Empcdocles 
on Etna, and perhaps Abraham Lincoln, require more skilful handling. 

Now if the extension of significance is achieved by means of the 
sub-plot, or by a dominant symbol, we may consider this as the com- 
plementary half of our schematic oval figure, or as two pyramids with 
a common base. 1 These components will be complementary to the 
upper, or main curve, and will have a complex harmonic relationship 
to it^The sub-plot in Lear involves, for example, a series of linkages to 
different critical points of the same action, but is in fact a self-sufficient 
entity .jThe dominant symbol of The Wild Duck pervades more than 
one level of the play. (We may suspect that its unsatisfactory character 
is partly explained by the fact that, like a decadent Metaphysical image, 
it is drawn out artificially from one level to another and its effectiveness 
diffused or dissipated thereby.) 

Some such harmonic figure, severely limited by space and time but 
forced by these considerations to present the supreme virtue of per- 
spicuity, may be visualized as the typical tragic pattern. It will satisfy, 
as an artistic entity, what seems to be a fundamental human desire for an 
apparently complete and self-contained section of an action bounded by 
time, in which causation can be apprehended part intuitively, part 
emotionally as capable of being mastered (however momentarily) by 
man. It is the cry of Sir John Davies: 

O could we see how cause from cause doth spring, 

How mutually they linkt and folded are, 
And hear how oft one disagreeing string 

The harmony doth rather make than mar! 

From yet another point of view the tragic pattern can be considered as 
representing, again for the moment, man's conquest of time. That 
eternal problem, which occupies so much of the attention of poets 
throughout history, is susceptible of a satisfactory statement only in 
Epic and Tragedy; perhaps because work of some massiveness in scale 
is essential to give the impression of a relationship between the finite 
and the infinite. The lyric may achieve it by the expansive qualities of 
the symbol, the burning city, the lamp, the tower, the golden cock, the 
swan; but its communication has not, perhaps, the continuing quality 

1 This is, in fact, a development of Freytag's Cone. 


of the larger forms. Man's cry for the stability of all sensuous pleasure 
is recalled by Faust's words: 

Werd, ich zum Augenblicke sagen: 
Verweile doch! du bist so schon! 
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen, 
Dann will ich gern zu Grunde gehn. 
Dann mag die Todtenglocke schallen, 
Dann bin ich deines Dienstes frei, 
Die Uhr mag* stehn, der Zeiger fallen, 
Es sei die Zeit fur mich vorbei ! 

Time implies mutability. The poet's search for a symbol that will afford 
some sheltering island in the river is a commonplace of literature: 
whether it be the Grecian Urn, or Spenser's Epithalamion, or Mr Eliot's 
Four Quartets. Tragedy appears to offer such a moment; prolonged 
through the course of the play, apprehended intuitively at its conclu- 
sion, often above the tomb: 

For one throb of the artery, 
While on that old grey stone I sat 
Under the old wind-broken tree, 
I knew that One was animate, 
Mankind inanimate phantasy. 1 

That the experience is illusory is not, for the moment, the point at 
issue: though we may note that the accessory-aspects of the drama 
clowns, processions, battles and the like may, by their very theatrical 
nature, emphasize and re-info rce the nature of the momentary percep- 
tion of reality at the conclusion. It is here that Shaw's notorious criti- 
cism of Antony and Cleopatra might appear to breakdown: Shakespeare 
finally strains all his huge command of rhetoric and stage pathos to 
give a tragic sublimity to the whole wretched business, and to persuade 
foolish spectators that the world was well lost by the twain.' 

Many factors contribute to the final unity. Among them are the 
traditional features: consistency and credibility of character; the use or 
misuse of chance or coincidence; the sense by which the interaction of 
the past with the present is conveyed; the use of imagery in poetic 
language, with or without the additions of symbol, to provide exten- 
sion, universality, or the emotion of multitude. The organism is a 
delicate one, and easily distorted by under-emphasis or falsity of tone. 
Too strong an emphasis on a rigid connection between cause and effect 

1 Yeats, A Meditation in Time of War. 


will tend to eliminate any 'play* in the framework, and may produce 
an unacceptable didactic element; the intrusion of this last into a tragic 
concept which saw emotion as valuable forjtself alone, and which 
perceived the tragic utterance as something which coukl be isolated in 
its purely rhetorical qualities from the inmost qualities of the verse, 
may be thought to be responsible for the distorting sentimentalities of 
Eighteenth-century Tragedy. Its unity, its organic character and the 
sense of inevitability which it conveys arc among the more important 
qualities which differentiate tragedy from melodrama. Finally, the end- 
ing and the 'end* are perhaps more important than any other factors in 
producing a sense of completeness in the pattern. These aspects or 
factors will be discussed in subsequent chapters. 


The Nature of the Net 

Know now that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with 
his net. 


... if the assassination 

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch 

With his surcease success. . . . 


THE structure of a play may be considered from three possible points 
of view. The spectator perceives it in varying degrees of 'aesthetic 
distance', oscillating between some measure of 'willing suspension of 
disbelief 'and his knowledge that 'from the first act to the last, the stage 
is only a stage, and the players merely players'. His view of the out- 
come of the action will vary in accordance with his mood, the expecta- 
tions aroused by the known conventions within which the dramatist 
is working, the extent to which his awareness of the plot is counter- 
balanced by the success in emotional communication, and the signi- 
ficant momentum which the fable, if known, may have acquired in 
his mind. He will be aware of a movement in time and space con- 
trolled and terminated by the dramatist; but it seems likely that par- 
ticularly in tragedy the emotional response will produce a further 
oscillation. He knows that the outcome will obey a predetermined 
pattern: yet as he watches he becomes aware (as many have testified) 
that he hopes for a different solution. There is just the possibility that, 
this time, Desdcmona will not be murdered, nor Antony be betrayed. 
This excited hope carries an intermittent suggestion of free will, the 
momentary illusion of a self-generating self-determining action that 
can perhaps be modified, as in the Eumenides, by the intrusion of the 

The dramatist himself is aware of the overriding framework, the 
compulsions of his form: which, if we are to judge by the accounts 
of dramatists who have described their own creative activity, modifies 
and re-shapes itself continually during that process. It may, indeed, 



become almost a purgatorial experience, as Goethe testified: 'I am ter- 
rified at the idea of undertaking to write a tragedy, and I am almost 
convinced that I might destroy myself by that very effort.' 1 He is con- 
trolling the destiny of his characters, allowing them the sense of 
momentary escape, and of glimpses of a compulsive pattern which is, 
in varying degrees and in varying civilizations, of their own making. 

If it were possible to perceive the play (in the manner of Pirandello) 
from the viewpoint of certain of the leading characters, they would 
become progressively aware of a rigid structure, built up from char- 
acter and the impact of the Past upon the Present, enclosing a more 
flexible structure which 'gives' momentarily to the demands of imme- 
diate action. This flexible structure, the illusion of escape which it gives, 
is the instrument of one kind of dramatic irony, its recoil in obedience 
to the outer structure one source of the Reversal of the Situation. And 
the protagonists or the Chorus will perceive intermittently the 
nature of the outer compulsive structure, and the fact that this nature 
is,/row their point of view in the space-time continuum of the play, beyond 
explanation save that afforded by momentary intuitions. 

In the following pages I have attempted to show, by two images, 
some qualities of the tragic structure. That of the net is a frequent 
metaphor in tragedy; as regards its application here I have in mind two 
forms. The first is the seine, which consists of a long wall of netting, 
deeper at the middle than at the sides; the wall being extended ver- 
tically by a lead-line below, and a cork-line above. The ends are 
extended by wooden posts, weighted at the foot, and attached by a 
bridle to hauling-ropes. It is 'shot' from the stern of the boat, one 
hauling-line made fast to a man on shore. Once the net is extended, 
the boat returns to the shore in a half-circle, the net being dragged 
both by the boat and by the helper on the shore. The two meet, and 
the net is drawn slowly, horse shoe-wise, so that its middle, where 
the purse is formed, comes in last. The fish are enclosed, and as the 
purse or belly of the net comes nearer, the fish can be seen struggling 
in the diminishing space. It was this image that Yeats had in mind 
when he wrote: 

Shakespearean fish swam the sea, far away from land; 
Romantic fish swam in nets coming to the hand; 
What arc all those fish that he gasping on the strand? 2 

1 Quoted by Volkelt, op. at , p. 267 n. See also Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind: 
and in particular the very illuminating chapter 'Goethe and the Avoidance of Tragedy'. 
8 Three Movements. 


There is yet another projection of the thought. Certain kinds of nsn 
grey mullet, for example, will jump the cork-line as the purse dimin- 
ishes. A single fish tries; the rest follow. Sometimes straw is floated 
on the surface of the water to give the illusion of a net above as well 
as in front; in some parts of the world a raft is placed behind the purse, 
and on it the leaping fish fall. 

The second type is the trammel; a wall of large-meshed heavy net- 
ting, forming a wall with Icad-and cork-lines, moored across the 
current. On either side of the main wall hang, loosely, walls of much 
finer mesh. Fish that move with the current strike the wall, thrust the 
fine mesh into a bag through the squares formed by the wall of the 
coarse mesh, and are caught in the purse which they themselves have 

Both images are applicable to certain kinds of tragedy. 

For the seine net, the lead-line of Fate moving onwards disturbs the 
fish lying on the bottom, or swimming in mid-water: the power 
applied at either end moves it onwards steadily, yet shapes it intelli- 
gently into the horseshoe form. There is no escape above or below; 
though there may be, for a time, an illusion of freedom, of space to 
manoeuvre, even a sense of companionship with others in misfortune, 1 
and a strengthening of courage thereby. (Webster's tragedies give 
some sense of this.) But the progress towards the shore is inexorable; 
the open space contracts; the meshes stifle the struggles; and with a 
final motion the fish are flung upon the beach, great and small together. 

As to the analogy of the trammel, the workings of destiny are more 
crude, the current and the instinct to stem it or to follow it, are more 
compulsive, the self-enmeshing more dramatically the outcome of the 
struggle to escape. 

There is often in tragedy just this sense of the symmetrical tightening 
of the plot-ropes, the narrowing of the circle in the final stages of the 

1 Cousteau in The Silent World (pp. 112-13) has a description of a herd of tunny fishes 
that have been trapped m the inner chamber of a maze of nets because of their habit of 
swimming, during the spawning-season, with their right eyes towards the shore: as if the 
left were blind. The last stages before the kill in the corpo are described thus by the divers 
among them: 

'Life took on a new perspective, when considered from the viewpoint of the creatures 
imprisoned in the corpo. We pondered how it would feel to be trapped with the other 
animals and have to live their tragedy. Dumas and I were the only ones in the creeping, 
constricting prison who knew the outcome, and we were destined to escape. Perhaps we 
were over-sentimental, but we felt ashamed of the knowledge. I had an impulse to take 
my belt knife and cut a hole for a mass break to freedom. 

'The death chamber was reduced to a third of its size. The atmosphere grew excited, 
frantic. The herd swam restlessly faster, but still in formation. As they passed us, the 
expression of fright in their eyes was almost human.* 


play. Oedipus for long preserves the illusion of freedom, and builds up 
the continuous irony of the play by his ignorance of the outcome. 
Macbeth is aware of the narrowing circle, and uses images of a familiar 
kind to express his own fierce despair: 

... I am in blood 

Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, 
Returning were as tedious as go o'er. 1 


I am tied to a stake; I cannot fly, 
But, bear-like, I must fight the course. 2 

There are, of course, degrees in this illusion of freedom, in the pos- 
sibility of escape. And the tensions often appear to be distributed among 
the victims themselves: 

Will you, I pray, demand that demi-dcvil 
Why he hath thus ensnar'd my soul and body? 3 


We can carry some of the images of the net a stage further if we 
imagine the tragic structure as composed of a series of concentric yield- 
ing circles, which gradually diminish in size. For the outer ring we 
may postulate the First Cause, under whatever name it may be recog- 
nized: imperceptible, stable, within the awareness of the spectators and 
the protagonists; the presence that is felt, for example, throughout the 
Iliad, the object of prayers or imprecations in King Lear. Within it 
there is the ring of Present Action, shifting and changing in its points 
of pressure, yet linked to a ring immediately outside it, between it and 
the First Cause, which is the Determining Past. (Perhaps the gods in 
Homer, themselves symbolizing man's dilemma, lie between the two 
rings; and there also Irony has its first growth.) It is, obviously, in close 
sympathy with the ring of the First Cause; the connection is a matter 
for philosophical speculation. Within the third circle, yielding per- 
petually to their- struggles, yet doubly constricted by the two outer 
circles, the protagonists of the tragedy may be thought to move. Their 
circle is flexible, giving the illusion of control over the present action 
and even providing glimpses, through the mesh- wall of the Past, that 
enable the protagonists to speculate, intuitively or by analogy, on the 
nature of the First Cause. 

1 m. iv, 136. * v. vii, i. * Oth. t v. ii, 299. 



The conformation of the circles to the movements and pressure may 
be seen at their simplest in Greek Drama. The First Cause is not subject 
to speculation; we do not know why Thyestcs was doomed to eat of 
his children's flesh, or even why the curse should have lighted on the 
House of Atreus. The Determining Past is stayed and bolted to it; 
Iphigenia has died at Aulis, and Clytemnestra nurses her wrongs. 
Within the next ring, Agamemnon is free to refuse to walk on the 
purple carpet, to commit hubris\ yet the illusion has only a pathetic 
value, for Cassandra is prophesying that he must be slain in the Palace. 
Out of the past the Messenger comes to rob Oedipus of his last hope; 
and indeed the Messenger is often both the remembrancer of the Past 
and the architect of the present. In A Doll's House the Past is pushed 
forward intermittently, until the pattern that it is forming becomes 
clear to the protagonists who might once have altered that past, for 
Nora Helmer might have left her husband; and this pattern from the 
past is horribly projected into, and beyond, the Present, even the 
Present of the final scene. In Ghosts the home on Captain Alving's 
Foundation belongs to the future as much as the champagne and the 
incestuous kiss belong to the past. Once the final ring has narrowed 
on the protagonists and crushed them, it expands again and becomes 
in its turn part of the Determining Past; perhaps to repeat its pattern 
of nemesis, as in Shakespeare's history plays, upon a fresh shoal of 
characters round whom the net has again been shot. 

There are several methods of emphasizing the linkage between past 
and present. The Greek Chorus has among many functions that of 
conveying the sense of past momentum, and an artificial helplessness 
dissociated from the spectators. They are in one sense the guardians of 
the past, mediating, interpreting it, moralizing upon it, but never 
developing it into an authoritative pattern that may affect the present. 
The symbol, confirmed and sanctioned by the past, achieves a growing 
validity from that fact; and the revelation of its progression is a power- 
ful emotional agent as we view the closing of the net. The pattern may 
be conveyed, as in Shakespeare's Historical Plays, by a recurrent sense 
of the nemesis of Kingship, of a repeating intermittent perception of 
crime and punishment against a patient background which reflects, 
almost casually, and in minute particulars, the politics of the great. It 
seems likely that the sententiae, and the proverbial lore of Elizabethan 
drama, served to establish a similar continuity. 


A more subtle linkage takes place when the title and framework of 
a myth is projected into the present, as in Anouilh's Eurydice, or 
O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Elektra. The intellectual appeal of 'recog- 
nition', whether of similarities or of differences in relation to the 
source-play, is an obvious appeal; yet it is probable that the fable is 
strongly re-inforced in its re-creation, not only by the scholar's recol- 
lection of the earlier pattern, but by the validity attaching to the 
archetypal qualities of the original formulation. Even more complex 
patterns are formed by the counterpointing of a Biblical narrative 
against a classical or modern setting. The 'reversed' passage frdm 
Ezckiel in O'Casey's The Silver Tassie is a case in point, crude but 
dramatically effective: 

And the hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of 
Lord, and set me down in the midst of a valley. 

And I looked, and saw a great multitude that stood upon their feet, an 
exceeding great army. 

And he said unto me, Son of man, can this exceeding great army become 
a valley of dry bones? . . . 

And I answered and said, O Lord God, thou knowest. And he said, 
prophesy and say unto the wind, come from the four winds a breath and 
breathe upon these living that they may die . . . 

And I prophesied, and the breath came out of them, and the sinews came 
away from them, and behold a shaking, and their bones fell asunder, bone 
from his bone, and they died, and the exceeding great army became a valley 
of dry bones. 

In the seine-net image we can communicate the sense of an inexor- 
able external pressure in the progress of tragedy; the progressive con- 
striction of the individual's power of choice; the symmetrical narrow- 
ing of the horseshoe; the illusion of liberty in the meshes, or above the 
cork-line; the final catastrophic hauling of the purse to land. It is 
applicable to those forms in which there is a strong deterministic aspect. 

The image of the trammel is more valid for the self-wrought tragic 
situation. Fish progress with or against the current, 1 athwart the line 
of the net. They push forward towards a particular objective. The first 
obstacle is soft, yielding: they thrust against it, and in so doing push 
the sagging net through the large heavy meshes of the centre net. Once 
in the purse which they themselves have formed, the smaller meshes 

1 Cf. Cousteau, p. 37, ante. 


close about them. The further they thrust forward the more secure the 
trap becomes. They hang in the purse, perhaps to drown in the current, 
perhaps precariously alive, till the net is hauled and re-set. The respon- 
sibility of the presence of the net belongs to the life above the surface 
of the water. The thrust into the trap is (whatever instinct may drive 
him forward) the responsibility of the individual fish. So it is, perhaps, 
in the tragedy born of self-will, or of the sexual instinct, or of the will 
to power. The victims do not always question what power has set the 
net across the flood. 

It will be seen that in developing this image I have implicitly rejected 
the proposition that the entire responsibility for tragedy rests upon the 
protagonists. To Hegel's proposition that 'the dramatic character plucks 
for himself the fruit of his own deeds' I assent, but in a strictly limited 
sense. The dramatic character, it seems to me, has a limited amount 
of free-will. For the sake of dramatic consistency he possesses the 
potency to follow Course A or Course B. He chooses B, either through 
his hamartia, or because of his hubris, or both. But, from the spectator's 
point of view, the action is in a sense predetermined. The plot or net 
is secured to the Past, and to the principle of evil, that, when once it 
is loosed, is self-generative. The ending (given the genre) is inevitable, 
if the mechanics of the net stand the strain of the hauling. If a rent is 
made deliberately (as perhaps in Measure for Measure) or if its shape is 
changed (as in The Winter's Tale) it ceases to function. But to attribute 
free-will to characters within the given structure as ordered by the 
dramatist appears to me inconsistent, and to demand presuppositions 
as to the rationality of character which causes us, too often, to lose 
sight of the compulsive nature of the pattern, and to lose ourselves in 
the subtleties of motivation. Yet Fate must not be wholly malignant, 
and the weakness of Romeo and Juliet, as of Hardy's Weltanschauung, is 
that complete malignity makes tragedy without meaning. Man's 
struggle with himself and with circumstances must have its own virtue; 
whether in the hope that the net may one day be broken, or in the 
good that accrues through suffering. The malignant fate may arouse 
pity and fear; it denies all possibility of purgation, 1 though it may rid 
the writer of some 'imposthume in his brain*. It is here that the net 
image, which I have used in order to suggest a particular aspect of the 
tragic response, ceases to be useful. To cry out, with Job, against the 

1 That Hardy obtained a characteristic purgation from his own pessimism is clear. 
'He is now this afternoon writing a poem with great spirit; always a sign of well- 
being with him. Needless to say it is an intensely dismal poem.' (Mrs. Hardy to Sir 
Sydney Cockerell: quoted J. G. Southworth.) 


compassing of God's net, is human and necessary to convey that agony 
of apparent entanglement. But the meshes are slashed across in death, 
and its resolution; and there is sometimes a strange feeling that the 
victims are returned to reabsorbtion in a new life in the sea. 


The Shadow of the Pleasure 

Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle, tragedy gives 
delight by affording a shadow of the pleasure that exists in pain. 

SHELLEY, Defence of Poetry 

For we are not to expect any and every kind of pleasure from tragedy, but 
only that which is proper to it. 



FOR some five hundred years the commentators on Aristotle have put 
forward explanations of the pleasure experienced in tragedy. To re- 
capitulate these would be tedious and not very profitable: it is sufficient 
to note the main headings of the apologetics. One important group 
finds the tragic pleasure closely linked to the Aristotelian pleasure in 
learning or inferring. So the generalization of Scahger: 'Pleasure does not 
reside in joy alone, but in everything fitted to instruct.' Thus, since 
tragedy deals with high moral issues, it affords a corresponding 
pleasure. And in the tragic representation the artistry of the playwright 
is an important source of pleasure: a view no doubt deriving from the 
Aristotelian 'Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we 
delight to contemplate when imitated with minute fidelity: such as 
the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies'. 1 A purely 
aesthetic approach is thus grafted, as it were, on to the moral one, a 
view which is linked to the later view of the 'distancing' of the spec- 
tator. Castelvetro 2 gives us what is virtually a hedonistic view; we find 
pleasure in tragedy because our own moral sense is flattered. The 
spectator infers that fate has been unjust; 'we realize that unjust things 
displease us; this realization is a very great pleasure to us because of the 
natural love we have for ourselves'. This is a somewhat unctuous 

Subsequent theorists of the eighteenth century, assuming a greater 
degree of empathy in the audience, found a pleasure-value in the 
spectacle of virtue triumphant over evil in spite of physical disaster. 
'Virtue, ever lovely, while labouring under distress appears with a 

1 Poetics, IV, 3. * Poetica d'Aristotele (2nd Edn.), p. 36. 



double lustre. Constrained by its attractions, we run to the theatre, 
and embrace objects of distress, notwithstanding the pain they afford 
us.' 1 In this last there is a hint of the theory of contradictory impulses 
that was to be developed later by Nietzsche, and which begat a host 
of psychological elaborations on the theme. 

A further school of critics rely on the general proposition that any 
harmonious stimulation of man's spiritual faculties is pleasurable, and 
is indeed the sole source of the pleasure. Among these emotions pity 
and fear occur, but are moderated into pleasure by the unreality of the 
drama. (Again the question of aesthetic distance is brought in.) So 
Rapin: 'of all Passions Fear and Pity are those that make the strongest 
Impressions on the Heart of Man ... In effect, when the Soul is 
Shaken, by Motions so Natural and so Humane, all the Impressions it 
feels become Delightful; its Trouble pleases, and the Emotion it finds, 
is a kind of Charm to it.' 2 Descartes distinguished between the passions 
excited by external stimuli, and the interior emotions. This dichotomy 
has important consequences in tragedy: since the soul, secure in its own 
virtue, finds that the impact of the external world, however violent, 
merely serves to increase its own 'in ward joy'. 3 Pleasure attends all the 
passions so long as the passions do not impinge on the inner virtue of 
the soul. And since a kind of inner fortification is thus provided, the 
individual is free to seek out, deliberately, experiences which are 
gloomy, awe-ful, lamentable, and so forth: since the effect of this 
individual security is to hold them, as it were, at arm's length even if 
these occurrences are real, and not distanced by artistic representation. 
It is, perhaps, converging on a Stoic view, and we may remember 
Campion's rendering of Horace: 

The man of life upright, 

Whose guiltless heart is free 
From all dishonest deeds, 

Or thought of vanity; 

That man whose silent days 

In harmless joys are spent, 
Whom hopes cannot delude, 

Nor sorrow discontent; 

1 Anonymous, 1770. Quoted by E. R. Wasscrmann, ELH, Vol. 14, No. 4. I am 
indebted in this chapter to this writer's admirable summary in The Pleasures of Tragedy. 

* Quoted by Wasscrmann, op. cit. It is curious to find Nietzsche using the same term, 
Charm t of the tragic experience. 

8 Descartes, Works, I, 373. 


He only can behold 

With unaffrighted eyes 
The horrors of the deep 

And terrors of the skies. 

And he may even go forth to seek those horrors deliberately, secure in 
his own divided and controlled emotions, to provide a thrilling experi- 
ence. He can analyse and observe such emotions with dispassionate 
passion. Such is the genesis of the Romantic outlook. But the most 
convenient summary, a sort of drag-net that gathers something from 
the turbulent schools of his predecessors, is that of Hurd: 

. . . not only our attention is rouzed, but our moral instincts are gratified; 
we reflect with joy that they are so, and we reflect too that the sorrows which 
call them forth, and give this exercise to our humanity, arc but fictitious. 
We are occupied, in a word, by z great event; we are melted into tears by a 
distressful one; the heart is relieved by this burst of sorrow; is cheered and 
animated by the finest moral feelings, exults in the consciousness of its own 
sensibility; and finds, in conclusion, that the whole is but an illusion. 1 

The term Mitleicl, so common in German writers on tragic theory, is 
perhaps a more precise term than our 'sympathy'. It is of such import- 
ance that the doctrines of the eighteenth century on the subject are 
worth noting. Sympathy is defined by Campbell as 'that quality of the 
soul which renders it susceptible of almost any passion, by communica- 
tion from the bosom of another'. 2 Hume remarks on its universality: 

In general, 'tis certain, that wherever we go, whatever we reflect on or 
converse about; every thing still presents us with the view ot human happi- 
ness or misery, and excites in our breasts a sympathetic movement of pleasure 
or uneasiness. In our serious occupations, in our careless amusements, this 
principle still exerts its active energy. 

A man, who enters the theatre, is immediately struck with the view ot so 
great a multitude, participating of one common amusement; and experiences 
from their very aspect, a superior sensibility or disposition of being affected 
with every sentiment, wliich he shares with his fellow-creatures. 3 

According to Burke, it is a social passion, whereby 'we enter into the 
concerns of others'. But trie desire to concern ourselves thus is part of 
the divine plan Love one another and has thus been made pleasurable. 
This view leads logically to the conclusion that real suffering is more 
effective than that represented on the stage. Burke therefore introduces 

1 Hurd, Edn. of Horace's Ep. ad. Pisoncs, pp. 101-2 ut Wassermann, 
8 Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric at Wasscrmann. 
3 Works, Vol. IV, Section V Why Utility Pleases 


the aesthetic pleasure of 'imitation* as a component, acting as it were 
a brake upon, the impact of the painful experience which must be com- 
municated as realistically as possible upon the stage. But if this sympathy 
is considered as a dominant aspect of the tragic experience, it tends to 
deny the requirement that the tragic protagonists should be of high 
estate (since pure sympathy can be more readily aroused for the mis- 
fortunes of men like ourselves, or of lower rank), and at the same time 
excludes the emotion of fear. Hence arises a distinction between 
'pathetic' and 'moral' tragedy, the latter only exciting both pity and 
fear. In this unhappy division we may see the failure of Eigrfteenth- 
century Tragedy. 


But in all the welter of theory the Scene of Suffering, as such, received 
little attention; and the light that modern psychology has thrown upon 
its potentialities on the stage makes it of particular interest. Since it is 
closely bound up with questions of ethical values, of cathartic and 
expiatory effects, of the dissociation of the spectator's sympathy, and 
of the more primitive sacrificial aspects that appear to be involved, we 
must consider it in some detail. 

No reaction is more complicated or more variable than that of 
individual humanity to suffering. Of all responses it appears to be that 
most readily dulled by usage, distorted by various degrees of egotism, 
modified by different social backgrounds. 'Conduct which at one stage 
produces its measure of harmonious satisfaction, in other surroundings 
or at another stage is destructively degrading/ J The gradual elimina- 
tion of overt cruelty in national life is a commonplace of social history; 
the failure to eliminate it in war, its recrudescence under such condi- 
tions with every ingenious accessory of torture that imagination can 
devise, always comes as a temporary but apparently evanescent shock. 
The extent to which it enters into tragedy raises the following important 

1. What is the limiting factor, if any, of pain which is effective in the 
Scene of Suffering? Or, perhaps, in another form, at what stage 
does terror pass into horror? 2 

2. Under what poetic conditions does the Scene of Suffering achieve 
its maximum effect? 

1 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 334. 

* Cf. Rowc, Preface to Shakespeare. 'This is to distinguish rightly between Horror and 
Terror. The latter is a proper Passion of Tragedy, but the former ought always to be 
carefully avoided.' 


3. What is the validity of those theories which have found in tragedy 
elements of sadism, or of masochism, or of schadenfreude some- 
times of all three? 

4. Does the pattern of tragedy in itself react upon the Scene of 
Suffering, in its individual setting, in such a way as to produce a 
special kind of appeal? 

At the outset it would appear that any physical suffering depicted on 
the stage runs a grave risk of failure in communication. It was for this 
reason, among others, that Lamb preferred to read King Lear in the 
study rather than to see it on the stage. The boundary between the 
effective and the ridiculous, the point at which the emphatic response 
is dissolved in laughter or rejected by the sheer physical revolt of the 
entrails, is thin and wavering. Attempted verisimilitude in blood, 
strangling, beheading, mutilations, is very apt to break down in 
ridicule. 'La grande principe de ne pas ensanglanter la scene* contains 
much sense; even the matter of Caesar's wounds requires tact in pro- 
duction and speech, and Lavinia's entrance in Titus Andronicus is an 
object lesson in the purely revolting; unless it is played as 'historic* 
comedy. Torture-scenes as such are degrading, and easily become 
comic; Shaw's account of Joan's burning reflects the horror, but avoids 
transgressing the limit of pain. In the epic wounds are not essentially 
painful, because of their relation to the intention of the poetic structure. 

It is clear that certain types of physical violence produce that kind of 
intestinal reaction which we call horror. Both Oedipus and Gloster 
with their empty streaming eye-sockets have caused endless contro- 
versy, and the descriptions are usually toned down in production. 
Sword or rapier deaths as in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, are 
effective because the death-wound is the climax of the sword-play, 
itself an aesthetic activity, perhaps a ritual, of notable dramatic appeal 
to an Elizabethan audience, and sometimes even to us. The strangling 
of Desdemona is perhaps on the border line of horror, and is made 
possible only by the remoteness of the inner stage or its equivalent. 
Cleopatra's death at the teeth of the asp remains the most artistically 
satisfying of all deaths, for it has been prepared, metaphysically, in 
the text of the play. It is not only 

the lover's pinch 
That hurts and is desired 

but is sublimated into the peace of the wife and the mother, with all 


its implications of these images in relation to Cleopatra's transfigura- 

Peace, peace, 

Dost thou not see my baby at my breast 

That sucks the nurse asleep? x 

In general it appears as if the Scene of Suffering varies in its effective- 
ness with the background of the audience. A taste for public executions, 
for bear-baiting, for the dismembering insults to the dead body, might 
enable an Elizabethan audience to contemplate Lavinia raped, her 
tongue torn out, her lopped and bleeding wrists, with a certain excite- 
ment which no doubt had its sexual component. Euripides' description 
of the corpse of Hippolytus, mangled (like Hector's) by being dragged 
behind the horses, is given with tact and the minimum of display of the 
wounds. 2 But in Jacobean tragedy, in Webster, Ford, Tourneur, death 
which is contrived so as to stimulate factitious and perhaps unfamiliar 
emotions is, to modern taste, either offensive or ridiculous. 

It would seem that, so far as physical suffering is concerned, there is 
a definite boundary (as there is in Comedy) which the dramatist must 
not transgress. The crossing of it will often be signified by violent 
physical reaction, vomiting and nausea. Horror, indefinite in its nature, 
appears to occur when the balance is upset in the direction of this 
intestinal spasm; itself accentuated by the absence of any corresponding 
imaginative balance in the preparation for, or the imaged description 
of, the scene itself. 

The point will perhaps be clearer if we take the well-known tor- 
turers' scene from the Wakcficld Miracle Play of the Crucifixion. The 
whole hideous act is stressed at length in the dialogue, to the accom- 
paniment of some mechanical comedy. The cross is dropped violently 
into its socket. And then, from the figure against the sky (as in Blake's 
drawing of that event) there is the supreme lyric set against the rough 
dialogue that preceded it: 

My folk, what have I doon to thee 
That thou all thus shall torment me? 
Thy sin bear I full soon. 

1 A. & C, V. ii, 306. 

1 As a modern example of such tact (and of the recurrence of an historical situation) I 
quote from a letter from W. B. Yeats to Sir Herbert Gnerson: 'In my own neighbourhood 
the Black and Tans dragged two young men, tied alive to a lorry by their heels, till their 
bodies were rent in pieces. "There was nothing for the mother but the head", said a 
countryman, and the head, he stated, was found on the roadside. The one enlivening truth 
that starts out of it all is that we may learn chanty after mutual contempt.* (Letter 
hitherto unpublished.) 


How have I grieved thee? answer me. 
That thou thus nailest me to a tree, 

And all for thine errour. 
Where shalt thou seek succour? 
This fault how shalt thou amende 
When that thou thy saviour 
Drivest to this dishonour 

And nail'st through feet and hende. 
All creatures whose kinds may be trest, 
Beasts and birds, they all have rest 

When they are woe begone. 
But God's own son, that should be best 
Has not whereon his head to rest, 

But on his shoulder bone. 

It seems arguable that here the liturgical complexity of the lyric has 
cancelled out the previous suggestion of horror. The act of the Cruci- 
fixion remains the supreme example of the Christian Scene of Suffer- 
ing; but it is likely that its 'terror* aspects have long since been merged 
in other religious emotions. That the degree of sympathetic suffering 
encouraged by the Church has itself changed greatly is a commonplace 
of history. 


The Scene of Suffering achieves its maximum effect when its coin- 
position, technically, is impure: that is, when its setting involves a 
series of other adjustments in the spectator. The mental sufferings of 
Othello after his 'recognition', of Mrs Alving as she watches the 
unfolding of her son's tragedy, of Maurya's lament over her dead sons 
in Riders to the Sea, are highly complex and differ widely in their system 
of references. 1 If we are to find any common ground in this type of 
scene, we may isolate the following elements which modify and con- 
trol the suffering into a larger framework: 

i. A strong link with the past, expressing itself in an elegiac mood: 

She should have died hereafter 

Thou'lt come no more, 
Never, never, never, never, never! 

1 A simple instance would be the difference in these 'adjustments' as between a Jacobean 
and a modern audience regarding Othello's suffering in particular their views of his 
reactions regarding Desdemona's chastity. 


Beatrice Cenci's 

Here, Mother, tie 

My girdle for me, and bind up this hair 
In any simple knot; ay, that does well. 
And yours I see is coming down. How often 
Have we done this for one another; now 
We shall not do it any more. 

2. A poetic statement embodying either the summit of that play's 
characteristic rhetorical impetus or a simplicity and flattened lan- 
guage, in obedience to the emotional pressure. 

3. A connection established with one or more dominant themes of 
the play through the imagery of the passage: 


Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, 
And thou no breath at all? 


Here is my journey's end, here is my butt, 
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail. 


Before we consider other elements in the Scene of Suffering, and the 
dramatic theories associated with them, it is well to attempt to define 
certain terms. 

Sadism is the pleasure directly experienced from the pain of others; 
with the important proviso that the resultant pain must be the result 
of actions by the person experiencing that pleasure. In a wider sense, 
perhaps too wide it has been defined as 'the pleasure felt from the 
observed modifications on the external world produced by the 
observer'. 1 

Masochism denotes the pleasure experienced from the voluntary 
submission to pain. Both sadism and masochism are often connected 
with sexual perversions. It is enough for the moment to remark that, 
as regards both elements, they become perversions only when they 
are stressed to the exclusion of normal emotions, or become sub- 
stitutes for them. In moderate proportions, for instance, both are 
consistent with normality in the sexual act. Sartre's definition is of 

Masochism is a perpetual effort of a person to reduce his subjectivity 
1 Gorer, Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis de Sade, p. 220. 


to nothingness through its assimilation by another [i.e. the complete 
surrender to domination or physical pain] . This attempt is accompanied 
by an exhausting but delightful experience of defeat, and the individual 
finishes by seeking defeat as his principal end. 1 

Algolagnia is the term used to denote 'the intimate connexion 
between sex and pain ... it is the meeting place of the sexual 
and constructive-destructive instincts/ 2 

Schadenfreude can best be defined as 'the opposite face of pity'. It 
is not merely a pleasure in destruction or death for its own sake, but 
involves a deliberate withholding of compassion. This produces 
various kinds of psychic compensation in the beholder. Nietzsche 
defines it thus: 

Malicious joy arises when a man consciously finds himself in evil 
plight and feels anxiety or remorse or pain. The misfortune that over- 
takes B makes him equal to A, and A is reconciled and no longer 
envious. If A is prosperous, he still hoards up in his memory B's 
misfortune as a capital asset, so as to throw it into the scale as a counter- 
weight when he himself suffers adversity. In this case too he feels 
'malicious joy*. This thought, directed towards a 'levelling-up' process 
applies in the same way to matters of fortune and fate. . . . Malicious joy 
is the commonest expression of victory, and restoration of equality, 
even in a higher state of civilization. 3 

Sadism, masochism and schadenfreude have at various times attracted 
writers on tragedy as offering explanations of the 'pleasure* derived 
from the scene of suffering. The explanations cover a wide range, from 
the most exalted to the most material. Some of them can be summarized 
briefly here. 

The pleasure experienced in suffering may be expiatory in character, 
as in the meditations on the suffering Christ, and, for example, such as 
lead to the production of the phenomena of the Stigmata. Its validity 
depends on the current doctrines of the Church as to its spiritual value. 
It is not easy to say, in such instances, where masochism begins or 
sadism ends. As a well-defined step in mystical experience the pleasure- 
aspect is undoubted, though highly complex and subject to rationaliza- 
tions of various kinds. For our present purposes we shall expect to find 
it only in religious drama. 

1 Quoted by Dempsey, The Psychology of Sartre, p. 43. 

1 Gorer, p. 237. 

3 Works, Vol. VII, p. 207. (Human, v4//- Too-Human.) We may note that the distress of 
others is in some measure a reassurance as to our own security. But it does not necessarily 
imply malice. 


A second view seems to postulate sympathetic suffering that alternates 
with an artistic distancing of that suffering through the conditions of 
the theatre. This is Frey tag's principle of joyful safety': the spectator 
sympathizes with the protagonists, yet continually recalls the world 
of make-believe and his own security in the theatre. In this instance 
the elements of true sadism or masochism are probably slight. As a 
subdivision of this view, there can be a strong moral aspect of the 
pleasure-pain: perhaps best summarized in the phrase 'There but for the 
grace of God go I.' (The meaning of this sentence may vary a good 
deal according to which words we stress.) The weakness of this view is 
perhaps its dependence on the applicability of the positive and negative 
virtues of the play to the spectator himself. Full identification is, on the 
whole, improbable, 1 though Coleridge's criticism of Hamlet from this 
point of view is well known. 

A third view, and one of the utmost importance, is that which finds 
in sadism or masochism a fulfilment of the unconscious sense of guilt, 
and/or desire for punishment; feelings of which the conscious mind 
may be completely unaware. It is possible that a 'sacrificial' component 
of many tragedies may be perceived in response to such a demand.* 

Now the unconscious sense of guilt, the satisfaction iu punishment, 
is of sufficient importance to require consideration here. Nietzsche's 
analysis of the matter is relevant, .Punishment can be regarded 

1. As rendering the criminal harmless and incapable of further 

(Some such response may occur in Macbeth, and in the holo- 
causts of the 'glorious villains' of Webster.) 

2. As compensation for the injury sustained by the injured party. 

(This docs not seem applicable to tragedy.) 

3. As an isolation of that which disturbs the equilibrium. 

(This is not far off the Bradlcian view of expelling the poison 
from the body politic.) 

4. As a means of inspiring fear of those who determine and execute 
the punishment. 

(Such a view may have been more relevant in Elizabethan- 
Jacobean tragedy when the absolute power of the governor was 
more a matter of normal experience and importance.) 

5. As a compensation for the advantages which the wrong-doer 
has hitherto enjoyed. 

(Is not some such feeling possible on viewing Dr Faustus?) 
1 Sec Chapter 22, infra. 


6. As the elimination of an element of decay, hence as a means 
of purification. 

(This appears to overlap with No. 3 above, and again with 
No. ii below. It is perhaps of more importance in Greek 
drama. 1 ) 

7. As a festival, of the violent suppression and humiliation of an 
enemy that has at last been subdued. 

(Not, I think, very relevant; except for the modern emphasis 
on the ritual elements in drama.) 

8. As a mnemonic, whether for him who suffers the punishment 
or for him who witnesses it. 

Faustus is dead: regard his hellish fall. 

Perhaps the commonest aspect of tragedy in medieval thought. 

9. As the payment of a fee stipulated for by the power which pro- 
tects the evil-doer from the excesses of revenge. 

10. As a compromise with the natural excesses of revenge. 

(I do not find these relevant; except in so far as we shall have 
occasion to discuss revenge later.) 

11. As a declaration and measure of war against an enemy of peace, 
law, order, authority. 

(To be considered with 3 and 6 above: which, indeed, say 
much the same thing in different versions of the Nietzschcan 
language. 2 ) 

As regards Algolagnia, it is impossible to say, with any certainty, that 
it is a feature of any specific tragedy. The nearest approach might be 
found in Hamlet, where the insulting and rejection of Ophelia by 
Hamlet might under certain conditions provide a response of this kind. 
Sex is seen in a specific relationship to pain. Construction and destruc- 
tion meet in the bawdry, the violent revulsion; the deliberate brutality 
may well represent, for a portion of the audience, a vicarious psychic 
revenge. The long train of denunciation of women in Shakespeare, 
upon which certain biographical fictions have been built, docs suggest, 
at moments, a sadistic pleasure. Berowne's indictment in LoveS Labour's 
Lost, lago's strange half-comic insults to Desdemona, Troilus's warning 

1 Cf. Strindberg, Preface to Lady Julie: of the half-woman: 'It is not a good type for 
it docs not last but unfortunately it transmits its own misery to another generation . . . 
Fortunately, these women perish, either through lack of harmony with reality, or through 
the uncontrolled mutiny of the suppressed instinct, or through the shattering of their 
hopes of keeping up with the men.' 

1 Genealogy of Morals, pp. 94-5. 


to Cressida, all contain some clement both of sadism and masochism 
blended with sexuality. 

At the same time it is of interest to note the number of minor figures 
in the tragic structure who appear to fulfil some kind of sacrificial 
function, passive or semi-passive in character; Hedvig in The Wild 
Duck, Lady Macduflf's children, the Princes in King John and in 
Richard HI. That they have other dramatic purposes is clear; they are 
a certain method of eliciting pathos. But they may also on occasion 
suggest other archetypal values, which will be discussed in a subsequent 


The Schadenfreude theory appears to split into two groups: that 
which assumes a malicious pleasure in the suffering, and that which finds 
a more ennobling exaltation in cosmic ruin. Of the first type a moder- 
ate expression is La Rochefoucauld's 'We bear with equanimity the 
misfortunes of others'; or Macneile Dixon's quotation from Burke, 'I 
am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in 
the real misfortunes and pains of others.' * The point, of course, is 
whether the 'pleasure' arises out of malignity or out of sympathy. 
Once admit sympathy, and~we are Back to some modification of the 
theories of empathy and perhaps of masochism. The true exponent of 
Schadenfreude would rely entirely on malignity; although if pressed 
he might appeal to the satisfaction of this aspect of Original Sin, and be 
compelled, therefore, to acknowledge its cathartic value. 

We must return again to Nietzsche and his comments on Schaden- 
freude. 'How excellent a tiling it is that mankind has discovered so 
many joys in the contemplation or experience of pain! Man has also 
grown in stature through his recognition of Schadenfreude. (He finds 
joy, too, in his own pain: and this is a motivating force in many moral 
and religious systems.)' 2 

And again: 

Joy in the injuries done to others is something quite other than the mor- 
bid: it is the enjoyment in sympathy, and reaches its peak when that 
sympathy is greatest that is, when we torture those whom we love. If some- 
one else causes suffering to someone we love, then we rage with anger, and 
sympathy becomes wholly painful. But it is we who love him, and we who 
cause him to suffer. For that reason sympathy becomes a most delectable 

1 Tragedy, p. 16. Works, XII, p. 90. 


thing; it is a clash between two opposing and powerful impulses, and has the 
most powerful effect upon us. 1 

It may be doubted whether this Schadenfreude is as powerful as 
Nietzsche would have us suppose; but elements of it no doubt exist in 
tragedy, whether in the purer form of Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading 

For each man kills the thing he loves 

or in Blake's Sick Rose, or as some impure compound with Algolagnia. 


The Schadenfreude idea may contain a considerable element of this 
Todtentrieb, the desire for death and destruction. It is often associated 
with a state of exaltation, particularly in a culture influenced by Fascist 
ideals. The principle of self-immolation, either for the sake of the State, 
or because of the failure of a political ideal, is obvious both in Wagner, 
and in Hitler's orders for the destruction of the German State. The 
Twilight of the Gods, the last stand in the Festung-Europa, are per- 
ceived as abstract heroic conceptions which have in them strong 
nihilistic elements. It appeared in German patriotic songs: 

Es zittern der Morschen Knochen der Welt vor dem grossen Krieg. 
Wir haben den Schrecken gebrochen: fur uns war's cm cdler Sieg. 
Wir werden weiter marschieren, wcnn allcs in Scherben fallt; 
Derm heute gehort uns Deutschland, und morgen die ganze Welt. 

A less violent expression is found in Yeats: 

And I would have all know that when all falls 
In ruin, poetry cries out in joy, 
Being the scattering hand, the bursting pod, 
The victim's joy among the holy flame, 
God's laughter at the shattering of the world. 2 

It will be seen that this last statement implies both a sacrificial element 
not unlike the Todtentrieb, as well as the mystical death-and-resurrec- 
tion of the seed. Nietzsche's account is worth noting: 

The affirmation of life, even in its most familiar and severe problems, the 
will to life, enjoying its own unexhaustibilities in the sacrifice of its highest 
types, that is what I call the Dionysian, that is what I divined as a bridge to 
a psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not 
to purify from a dangerous passion by its vehement discharge (it was thus 

1 Ibid., pp. 90 f. * The King's Threshold, (Works, p. 193)- 


that Aristotle misunderstood it); but beyond terror and pity, to realize in 
fact the eternal delight of becoming, that delight which even involves in 
itself the joy of assimilating. 1 

Much has been written regarding the 'pure' or 'stage* villains of 
Elizabethan and Jacobean drama: but through it runs a certain in- 
credulity as to the characters that stand for revenge, however motive- 
less. Yet the existence of such mental states is indisputable, and is of 
interest in all 'gangster' psychology. There is a convincing statement in 
Bronowski's The Face of Violence: 

Man Which of us has not cried, Revenge ! 

Which of us has not felt 

A liberation in the act of anger. 

Which of us has never said 

Til show 'em yet!* 
Woman Who has not hoped 

To outrage an enemy's dignity. 

Who has not been swept 

By the wish to hurt. 

And who has never thought that the impersonal world 

Deserves no better than to be destroyed 

By one fabulous sign of his displeasure. 2 

Here both sadism, Schadenfreude, and the power-compensation are 
clearly shown. From another point of view revenge is shown as a 
rationalization of cumulative frustration: 

You and I are looking for a deed in the past 

When the moment of hate suddenly becomes solid, 

And we're wonderful at kidding ourselves that fate 

With a great show of innocence 

Has picked us only to dispense 

A more respectable brand of hate, 

An extra special brand they call revenge. 3 

But deeper under every human heart 
Rise the thwarted passions 
And the springs of jealousy, 
And they in secret build a flood 
Whose violence is charged with power. 4 

This formulation is helpful to our perception of the appeal of so much 

1 The Twilight of the Idols, p. 139. 2 p. 55 Note the infantile power-urge. 

8 p. 18. 4 p. 39. 


'violent' literature. It is clear that it is not merely escapist in character, 
But oilers a somewhat complicated formulation and discharge of 
psychological pressures. It can be made a direct and valuable link 
between the practical and the poetic life. lago, Bosola, Byron and 
Pinky of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock have much in common. And 
all such characters illustrate (from another angle) the self-propagating 
aspect of evil, particularly when it has been accumulated over a long 
period, and is therefore in a state of tension. So in Chapman's Hero 
and Leander: 

The more ill threats us, we suspect the less: 
As we grow hapless, violence subtle grows, 
Dumb, deaf and blind, and comes when no one knows. 1 

There are, no doubt, other components of pleasure-pain; an exacerba- 
tive element may exist in certain tragedies. This feeling of superiority 
on the part of the spectator may be increased by a kind of double con- 
sciousness: that of superiority which has been achieved in spite o/the 
heroic flaw, and increases thereby the stature of the protagonist towards 
whom identification extends. To accept a purely pessimistic interpre- 
tation, and to assume, however temporarily, some form of stoicism, 
may on occasion be astringently healthy, though it may balance on a 
knife-edge dangerously near self-pity. 

We have, then, a vast number of explanations for the 'shadow of the 
pleasure'. Those that seem of most interest to-day are, perhaps, the 
evaluation and comparison of the characteristic moral questions of 
tragedy with our own (whether we regard them as 'recognitions' of 
our own experiences, or as new aspects of knowledge); an acknow- 
ledgment of our own pleasure in pain, whether it gratify jMrevenge 
instinct (with or without an element of sexual pleasure) or some com- 
mon latent instinct_for the macabre; the unconscious recognition of a 
'sacrificial' principle at work in the world, whether as mere propitia- 
tion or as an aspect ofthe expulsion of evil. And, at the last, there is 
probably a joy, as Yeats pointed out, in the sheer sight of destruction; 
which may be unalloyed by moral or malicious considerations, and be 
in fact one road to a state of exaltation. On the stage a great personality 
meets destruction. His fall may be like the destruction of a great tree 

. . . And this pine is bark'd 
That o'er-topped them all. 

1 Fourth Sestiad. 


Thus the sinking of a ship, a great fire, or an explosion, or Words- 
worth's storm in The Prelude. 1 The sense of the numinous is present. 
So Chesterton 

There lives one moment for a man 
When the door at his shoulder shakes, 
When the taut rope parts under the pull, 
And the barest branch is beautiful 

One moment, while it breaks. 2 

n, 306. f The Ballad of the White Horse. 


The Spring and the Trigger 

The spring is wound up tight. It will uncoil of itself. That is what is so 
convenient in tragedy. The least little turn of the wrist will do the job. 
Anything will set it going; a glance at a girl who happens to be lifting her 
arms to her hair as you go by; a feeling when you wake up on a fine morning 
that you'd like a little respect paid to you to-day, as if it were as easy to order 
as a second cup of coffee; one question too many, idly thrown out over a 
friendly drink and the tragedy is on. 


Ce n'cst pas par des crimes qu'un pcuple sc met en situation fausse avec 
son destm, mais par des fautes. Son arme est forte, son caisse abondante, 
scs poctes en plein fonctionnement. Mais un jour, on ne sait pourquoi, du fait 
que ses citoyens coupent me*chamment les arbres, que son prince enleve 
vilainement une fcmme, que ses enfants adoptent une mauvaise turbulence, 
il est perdu. Les nations, comme les homines, meurent d'imperceptibles 


WE may perceive in both these statements by French dramatists a 
certain cynicism as to the releasing of the tragic force; yet they express 
accurately what many critics have felt, and tried to rationalize, in their 
theory of tragedy. From another point of view, their complaint is an 
expression of the moral discrepancy felt between the first or second 
causes of a tragedy and the outcome. If they are indeed right, the 
hamartia is reduced purely to an error of judgement, but an error which 
possesses an appalling element of the irrational or the capricious both 
in its inception and its fulfilment. It is therefore necessary to examine 
the apparent motivations in the tragic action. 

It is, I think, true to say that the majority of writers have found the 
mainspring of tragedy to He in the Will. Schopenhauer, deriving from 
Kant and followed by Brunetiere, gives us a typical statement of his 
destructive pessimism: 8 

It is the Will which constitutes the fundamental reality of the Ego. The 
Will as a thing in itself constitutes the mind, true and indestructible essence 

1 Antigone, p. 34. * La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu, p. 188. 

* Any evaluation of Schopenhauer's views would, I think, start with a detailed con- 
sideration of his life; and would need to explain his idea of beatitude through negation. 



of the will . . . The Will to live is the substance and nucleus of all reality. But 
it has neither consciousness nor knowledge; it is a blind dynamic urge. The 
Will is irrational. It acts at random. 

This immediately raises the question of the whole moral conscious- 
ness in relation to tragedy. If this force is a blind dynamic urge (as we 
may sometimes feel in the plays of Marlowe or Webster) the tragic 
feeling will break down unless we can counterweight it with some 
moral principle. If we split this 'urge' into its possible components, we 
are in a position to consider Nietzsche's account, perhaps the most 
original and influential analysis of the tragic energy. We must first 
consider his use of the words Apollonian and Dionysian: 

The word 'Apollonian' stands for that state of rapt repose in the presence 
of a visionary world, in the presence of a world of beautiful appearance 
designed as a deliverance from becoming; the Dionysos, on the other hand, 
stands for strenuous becoming, grown self-conscious, in the form of the 
rampant voluptuousness of the creator, who is also perfectly conscious of the 
violent anger of the destroyer . . .* 

The antagonism of these two attitudes, and the desires that underlie them. 
The first would have the vision it conjures up eternal', in its light man must be 
quiescent, apathetic, peaceful, healed, and on friendly terms with himself 
and all existence; the second strives after creation, after the voluptuousness of 
wilful creation, i.e. constructing and destroying. Creadon felt and explained 
as an instinct would be merely the unremitting inventive action of a dis- 
satisfied being, overflowing with wealth and living at high tension and high 
pressure of a God who would overcome the sorrows of existence by means 
only of continual changes and transformations, appearance as a transient 
and momentary deliverance; the woild as an apparent sequence of godlike 
visions and deliverances. 2 

Beneath this curious language we can discern Nietzsche's psycho- 
logical dualism. Dionysian man is the creator and destroyer, the sinner. 
He must, in the fashion of Marlowe's Faustus, challenge the gods: he 
commits sin that good may eventually come. Nietzsche contrasts the 
Promethean myth with that of the Fall; the first is the heritage of the 
Aryan, the second of the Semitic. 3 The Promethean action affords 
a typical illustration of the pecca fortiter theme. Fire is of transcendent 
value to man: but it is given by the gods only as lightning or as the 
sun, and neither can be under man's control. Therefore Prometheus 
robbed the gods, and had to suffer; but his sin is active and dignified 

1 The Birth of Tragedy, p. xxv. 

1 Ibid., p. xxvi. 8 Ibid., p. 78. 


as compared with the feminine sin of the Fall. Hence 'the necessity 
for crime imposed upon the Titanically-striving individual* and 

this Titanic impulse, to become as it were the Atlas of all individuals, and to 
carry them on broad shoulders, higher and higher, farther and farther, is 
what the Promethean and the Dionysian have in common. 1 

And the final end is 

. . . the mystery doctrine of tragedy: the fundamental knowledge of the oneness 
of all existing things, the consideration of individuation as the primal cause 
of evil, and art as the joyous hope that the spell of individuarion may be 
broken, as the augury of a restored oneness. 2 

But in this world, with its strange blend of superhuman energy with 
reflective mysticism, pain is perceived as a condition of knowledge. 
(We should remember that The Birth of Tragedy was originally entitled 
The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music.) 

The formless and intangible reflection of the primordial pain in music, 
with its redemption in appearance, thus generates a second mirroring as a 
concrete symbol or example. 3 

And again: 

Indeed he [the Apollonian Greek] had to recognize . . . that his entire 
existence, with all its beauty and moderation, rested on a hidden substratum 
of suffering and knowledge, which was again disclosed to him by the 
Dionysian. 4 

So Nietzsche takes Raphael's Transfiguration to illustrate the upper 
Apollonian world of beauty, with its substratum, the 'terrible wisdom' 
of Silenus. In his desire to give further application to the Prometheus- 
image, he turns to Oedipus: 

because of his excessive wisdom, which solved the riddle of the Sphinx, 
Oedipus had to plunge into a bewildering vortex of monstrous crimes: thus 
did the Delphic god interpret the Grecian past. 5 

Such a position is of course quite untenable; Oedipus' sequence of 
crimes is not intrinsically connected with his wisdom. It seems that we 
must look elsewhere for our explanation of the trigger, if not of the 

1 Ibid., p. 80. 2 Ibid , p 83. Ibid , p. 45. 

4 Ibid., p. 41. 6 Ibid., p. 40. 



As usual, we must return to Aristotle. The Fall takes place: through 
some error or frailty. The wholly sinless hero appears impossible, 
unless we set up a counter-puppet by dividing the ethical substance. 
We are left with the following logical possibilities. 

1. We may use Anouilh's image, and assume that there is in the 
universe this coiled-spring tension, ready at any moment to release its 
destructive-tragic forces, regardless of the kind or quality of the force 
that touches the trigger to release the detaining sear. (A development 
of the image into weapon-detail is, for the moment, useful.) The 
explosion thus has a completely irresponsible character: and we are 
compelled to suppose a complete though momentarily static tension as 
a normal condition of events. We are not, however, given any explana- 
tion of how the state of tension has arisen; it is apparently implicit in 
the nature of the universe. And so we are in a room full of hidden 
wires connected to booby-traps set by jealously-watching gods, a room 
in which we must go about our daily business, moving most delicately 
and invoking the element of luck. But the threat remains. Both 
explanations, the arbitrary spring and the capricious trigger, seem to 
me unsatisfactory. 

2. Alternatively, we may reverse the hypothesis, and consider 
Giraudoux's thesis that nations 'meurent d'impetceptibles impolitesses'. 
In such a case catastrophe might arise from cumulative inattention to 
what Chapman called 'ceremony'. Life is seen as ordered, 'pious', 
disciplined; unceremonious clumsiness may shatter it. One aspect of 
such a state of mind will be the sin of levity, which Tillyard finds at 
the centre of Eve's sin in Paradise Lost. Any lapse from grace will be 
cumulative, produce a condition in which the cup will suddenly brim 
over from an apparently trivial addition. A civilization, when it reaches 
a certain state of deterioration, is ready to be precipitated into tragedy. 
Something is rotten in Denmark, or in the world of Coriolanus, or 
in mid-nineteenth-century Norway, or in the Ireland of O'Casey. 

This hypothesis is in some ways attractive; but it results inevitably in 
a drastic reduction of the 'seriousness' of tragedy, and blurs the tragic 
issues. Yet both quotations, Anouilh's and Giraudoux's, have this in 
common: we feel that the tragic action releases a powerful force of 
sheer evil: that this force has been in a preparatory state of extreme 
tension: that the initiating action, the trigger, is often unrelated in 
its seriousness to the force released; and that the pressure upon it may 


be trivial or capricious. In considering this situation we are touching 
the problem of evil from another aspect, though we are not concerned 
with any final evaluation of cause and effect. It is probably best to 
examine certain tragic openings to see whether any light is thrown on 
the problem. 

Romeo and Juliet affords a simple instance. The tension in the spring 
is the hatred between the houses of Capulet and Montague; demon- 
strated at a low level in the opening scene, and on various planes 
afterwards. The trigger releasing it is Romeo's sudden and seemingly 
arbitrary infatuation for Juliet. Thereafter the spring expands, as it 
were, in jerks. In Macbeth, as in Lear, a series of new political adjust- 
ments are taking place. Whether the Witches embody Macbeth' s 
thoughts of ambition, which are suddenly half-confirmed by events, 
or whether the action of Lear presupposes a cumulative hatred on the 
part of Goneril and Regan such as Gordon Bottomley imagined, there 
appears to be enough potential disruption in the mere political setting. 
In Ibsen, and perhaps in Chekhov and Strindberg, we sometimes appear 
to have two springs, one within the other; a general setting of corrup- 
tion or ineffectiveness that is not specifically limited to the characters of 
the play, and a more immediate and personal tension created by the 
past actions of the characters themselves. It is this inner spring which 
uncoils, but its action is governed and reinforced by the outer one; and 
it would appear that the trigger-force is part of a larger decisive 
pattern rather than an arbitrary or casual action such as Anouilh 
describes. There is a sense of ripeness, of a saturation point in the cloud 
of nemesis. 

It appears that in general the 'trigger* shows a principle in common 
with that of accident in dramatic structure. Both are legitimate devices, 
in so far as the apparent arbitrariness of either factor may be considered 
as tightening or accelerating, or precipitating at a given moment, a 
train of circumstances which would, without such intervening, have 
occurred sooner or later, but which occur when they do because of the 
characteristics of the dramatic structure. Within the general circle of 
causation, the preliminary tension, its capacity for releasing evil or 
destruction, may be thought to build up, by the mere act of delay, an 
increasing explosive quality. This impression is given very strongly in 
the work of Chekhov, whose world of accidie and listless romantic 
despair is shown, by his use of the past in the present, to have accumu- 
lated steadily over a long period. 


It seems that we can best meet the known conditions by the follow- 
ing hypotheses: 

1. A general moral Law, on whose component parts we can 
speculate in detail but whose total operation and pattern is ex 
hypothesi unknowable;, orders and controls events. 

2. The outcome of that LaW 7 its system of rewards and punishments, 
as we understand them, is also unknown and unknowable. 

3. Within its system, and on a lower level than that system, man's 
will is free to operate on its proper levels, and in obedience to his 
known ethic. 

4. But is therein subject to the Pauline paradox 

'For the good that I would, that I do not: but the evil which I would 
not, that I do.* l 

5. The reasons for the operation of this law may arise from any of 
the following features, or from any combination of them: 

(a) The influence of past evil upon the active present; the 
quantitative and qualitative connection between the two 
being unknowable; since the higher system, which operates 
less unclearly in the past than in the present, is (at best) 
perceived intermittently: through processes which we can 
describe in terms of faith, or of mysticism, or of the 
poetic statement. 

(i) the individual will to evil, or to what, in a given 
sociological context, is perceived as evil. 

(c) the accumulation of past evil set into activity by a break- 
down of the ceremonial order of society, and thus generat- 
ing a favourable condition for a catastrophic cycle. 

It will be seen that this position involves the rejection of the Hegelian 
division of the ethical substance in favour of a relativist doctrine of 
evil; that is, evil perceived as operative against both a fixed body of 
ethic, and as against a contemporary or local situation which might 
modify such an ethic. 2 

1 Rom. vii, 19. 

a A number of anthropological examples will occur to the reader. 


The Ethical Problem 

A play which is entirely explained is simply a morality play, a play which 
is all inexplicable is only a meaningless photograph of the surface chaos 
of life. 


Diminish evil, and it will go hard with the tragic poets. 


-And take upon's the mystery of things, 
As if we were God's spies. 

King Lear 

THE central problem of Tragedy, from Aeschylus onwards, has 
always been the moral or religious problem of the place of evil and 
suffering in the world. From Prometheus on the Rock to OtHello's 
crucifixion of repentance, from Lear's madness to the dusty horror of 
The Wild Duck, the mystery of evil is continuously presented; and with 
it the cognate problem, the relationship between crime and punish- 
ment in the tragic structure. The pretext or circumstances under which 
evil may be released was considered in the previous chapter, The Spring 
and the Trigger: it is now necessary to remind ourselves of the main 
philosophical answers to the problem of its existence. We can consider 
them under four classic headings. 

The firstis-X)eterminisni. God is the responsible author of good and 
evil alike. Sin and suffering are necessary parts of the divine plan, which 
He has predestined. There is thus no free-will, whether in fact or as 
illusion; action is part of a total pattern, rigid in character, but in- 
comprehensible to the mortal spectator. There is thus no element 
whatever of individual responsibility, nor even in a strict inter- 
pretation of a redemptive aspect in suffering. The failure of medieval 
drama to produce a tragedy from its material was due to two causes; 
a deterministic view of the Christian story, and a failure for any 

1 Greek Tragedy, p. 158. 
6 65 


such attempt would have been blasphemy to set up even an opponent 
of straw (such as a Roman Security Council) to provide some kind 
of balance. And the Christian projection of life, redemption and 
reward beyond the grave weighted the scales unduly. As an extreme 
instance we may consider the dramatic situations constructed in George 
Moore's The Apostle, and in Yeats's Calvary. 

A second solution rests on the hypotffesis that sin and suffering are 
an earthly illusion. Evil has no existencelbr God who is above space and 
time. Man is incapable of perceiving thisrt|iough hqmay attain through 
contemplative and spiritual exercises a positio^ above dl considerations 
of evil, and is unaffected either by the fact or by the knowledge. But 
this again is foreign to the spirit of tragedy; for it leaves unexplained 
man's moral sense, annihilates his potential conflict with evil, and 
renders impossible any bond between the actor and the audience. 
The solution of tragedy in 

Calm of mind, all passion spent 
is an ending, and not a state. 

A third solution, that of a clear-cut dualism, has something to com- 
mend it from the point of view of the tragedian. There is war in 
heaven. God's omnipotence is only partial, or He may have with- 
drawn part of His omnipotence so as to clear the battleground for man. 
The fortunes of the battle may then ebb and flow according to man's 
virtus, his fortitude and integrity of soul. His stature as a tragic hero 
depends, not on the guardianship of Faustus' Good and Bad Angels, 
but upon the qualities which he exhibits in the course of his conflict. 
We are then confronted with a highly complicated series of problems. 
Does the virtus of Macbeth, the poet-king tied to the stake of his own 
evil deeds, and his credulity in the interpretation of illegitimately in- 
voked prophecy, outweigh the moral sins of his bloodshed? How far 
is Horatio's speech 

Good night, sweet prince, 
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! 

a monstrous assumption as to the future of Hamlet's murderous soul, 


even though it is based on the words of the Committal Service? 
Antony among the Elysian fields we can approve: 

Stay for me: 

Where souls do couch on flowers, we'll hand in hand, 
And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze; 
Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops, 
And all the haunt be ours. 1 

but the Roman heroes are at least consistent in their attitude to suicide, 
and to the eternal night that must be slept. 

But if we postulate a dualism, the existence of a free evil abroad, 
many familiar aspects of tragedy fall into place. If the evil is like a 
thundercloud, the slightest change in its system of tensions will suffice 
to precipitate the storm. 2 The pattern admits and accounts for Satan, 
or the tragic villain, given power to cause consternation among men: 

I am mightily abus'd. I should even die with pity 
To see another thus. 8 

And the tragic villains reply, some one thing, some another, from 
Aegisthus to Bosola, from Richard III to Byron's Cain. His reasons 
may be the intellectual enjoyment of the Fox at his power over the 
Lion; or a revenge for bastardy, or neglect, or the effect of some mole 
of nature in the man. The women villains are notably more pure in 
villainy, more single-souled in their rejection of good, since it is a 
single current only that has been turned against morality. 

The Manichaean heresy has its attractions if we demand a positive 
and exciting explanation. It fits well enough into the Stoic pattern, and 
it receives some support in terms of psychology for the distortion and 
personification of evil in the villains. True, the Christian philosophy 
may return to bring a whimper into the dying speech of Faustus 

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike 
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd. 

And it does not exclude the idea of virtue in that conflict, even if the 
setting is entirely pagan: 

Because Euripides shrank not to teach, 

Though gods be strong and wicked, man, though weak, 

May prove their match by willing to be good. 4 

1 iv. xii. 51. 

1 It is of interest to note that Hebbel considers the fundamental characteristics of 
tragedy as related to a metaphysical conception of original or cumulative guilt. 
1 Lear, rv. vii. 53. 4 Browning, Aristophanes' Apology. 


There is a fourth way of considering evil, on the hypothesis that the 
world is purposeless and chaotic. What is left is a residue in a stoicism 
of varying degrees of resignation or bitterness. The free evil is in itself 
the product of chance. It obeys no laws but those of probability. The 
end is a spiritual nihilism, which, under certain conditions, is not 
without its value: 

The sense that every struggle brings defeat 
Because Fate holds no prize to crown success 
That all the oracles are dumb or cheat 
Because they have no secret to express; 
That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain 
Because there is no light beyond the curtain: 
That all is vanity and nothingness. 1 

There are many variants of the attitude: as, for example, that which 
runs through so much of Housman's poetry, often shading into 

We for a certainty are not the first 
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled 

Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed 
Whatever brute or blackguard made the world. 

Such a view eliminates all mystery concerning evil, which is both 
dominant and arbitrary. To confront it in a mood of pessimism does, 
without question, bring a temporary psychological satisfaction, at 
intermediate levels, not unlike that afforded by revenge, real or im- 
agined. The frequency of such attitudes during adolescence, and the 
studies of them both in novels and in the drama, is sufficient proof. 
It is also well to note that pessimistic feelings can exist simultaneously 
with those which are basically moral. But we are left with the problem 
of reconciling such an attitude with the sense of good, the sense of a 
world evolving creatively, of a sum total of evil which, for all the 
intermittent evidence to the contrary, is steadily decreasing in the 
world. 2 We have to account for the facts of happiness, of a moral 
sense, of the existence of that which Synge postulated in drama as 
'reality and joy'. Our judgements are inevitably moral, and Eliza- 
bethan tragedy is, however we may palter about it, founded on such 

1 James Thomson, The City of Dreadful Night. 

* Also the conditions under which what we may call 4 thc communicable hysteria of 
evil' may arise seem also to be diminishing. 


judgements; on volition rather than motivation. Yet we may remind 
ourselves of the words of an historian of the British Army, as embody- 
ing a sane and normal view of a single evil: 

There is talk of universal brotherhood, yet the quarrels of brethren arc 
proverbial for their bitterness. There has been talk of a reign of the saints, yet 
in the earliest days of Christianity St Paul contended against St Peter. There 
are those who maintain that human nature can be changed; and there can be 
no question of their sincerity and good intent. But there can also be no 
question that, notwithstanding all their efforts, a month's starvation always 
possible through some catastrophe in nature would turn not a few members 
of the most highly civilized community into something akin to savages. 
There is so much that is hidden even from the most steadfast view; there are 
so many human reactions which, if not called into play, are forgotten. With 
an eye and a heart fixed aloft upon the known good, yet with a wasting 
downward tendency to evil, this human nature of ours, if viewed in all its 
latent powers, its possibilities and its activities, remains for ever unchanging 
and perhaps unchangeable. To our imperfect understanding war may well 
seem horrible, lamentable, an accursed thing to be utterly abolished; yet 
there it is perhaps, if we are to judge from history, the oldest and most 
persistent of human institutions. We trust that it has its high purpose in the 
divine scheme which passes our intelligence, but we may not end it. Man 
cannot alter his essential nature, nor can he load the balances of God.' l 

In Job's answer, and in the Christian one, there are such balances, 
and they are not to be loaded. It is well to re-state the divisions of the 
problem as it affects our purpose here. 

1. Why does evil exist at all in an evolutionary and on the whole 
beneficent universe? 

2. Why is there, in drama as in life, such an observed lack of pro- 
portion between sin or error and the resultant evil? 

3. Are pain and suffering (a) in themselves evil? 

(b) of immediate or of ultimate value? 

(c) of value as having a sacrificial aspect? 

(If this last is true, what is the value of sacrifice in terms of in- 
dividual or cosmic morality? Does an element of atonement, 
direct or vicarious, find a place?) 

4. Why is there an apparent capaciousness of rewards and punish- 
ments? (We have all seen the righteous forsaken, and his seed 
begging their bread.) 

1 Sir John Fortescue, History of the British Army. 


The Christian statement of the philosophical position may be 
grouped under the following headings: 

(a) Moral evils, which constitute the problem of sin. 

(b) Physical evils, which constitute the problem of suffering. 

Neither in Christian philosophy, nor a tragic theory which takes 
account of Christianity, is there any causal connection between these 
two. The tragedy of Job is in some sense the examination of this 
inconsistency; it resolves the problem by an approach, not to reason, 
but to experience. A single experience is reduced to scale against the 
complexity of God's creation. The violent storm of misfortune passes 
as soon as the experience is recognized for what it is. 

But Christianity does explain a large proportion of moral evil in 
terms of collective sin; and since collective sin is itself beyond any 
possible computation in terms of human values, its implications and 
results are also beyond assessment in past, present or future action. 
Ignorance and stupidity on the one hand, and the lack of repentance, 
or the will thereto, on the other, create the conditions for the liberation 
of a great cloud of accumulated evil. The trigger that sets off the charge 
may be, from the theological point of view, the confirming act that 
places the agent beyond the divine grace (this is the Macbeth situation 
when Amen sticks in his throat); or, from a wider point of view, it 
may be any act of hubris. (I shall suggest later that the explanation of 
hubris cannot be excluded from a Christian philosophy.) Greek tragedy, 
by the very nature of its fabulous material, conveys just this sense of 
accumulated evil, sometimes visibly augmented in the present by 
impiety of many kinds. The curse that hangs over the Palace of the 
Atridae has its roots in past sin. The threat implicit in the second 
Commandment, however much we ridicule it to-day, contains the 
germ of an impressive doctrine of transmitted responsibility. In 
Macbeth and Julius Caesar the omens, the supernatural events, are the 
distant lightnings that show, as it were, the changing potentials in 
the charges, built up in the past, of the shadowing storm. In Ibsen the 
idea of sin in the past, whether collective or individual, is all-pervading; 
again it is reinforced, as in Greek drama and in Shakespeare, by the 
course to which the protagonists are committed. That sin, as in Ghosts, 
may be in terms of the second Commandment, or of some family 
curse, as in Rosmersholm. It is always, I think, complicated by other 
factors environment, social conventions, stupidity, greed, self-interest. 
In both Ibsen and Brieux the most terrible of the accumulated sins is 


heredity. 'The scientific principle of heredity is Nemesis without her 
mask. It is the last of the Fates, and the most terrible. It is the only one 
of the gods whose real name we know/ 1 

Neither in Christian philosophy, nor in the observed practice of 
Greek tragedy, is there any consistent suggestion of a just proportion 
in retribution for sin. 'Those eighteen, upon whom the tower in 
Siloam fell, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in 
Jerusalem?' 2 

Before we consider the Christian position, we may notice certain 
'intermediate' solutions, which will be dealt with in a subsequent 
chapter. Those of interest, are: 

1. The Marxist position, which makes evil a consequence of the 
distortion, through the temporary breakdown of the social system, 
of man's social and economic environment. Underlying it we 
have, of course, the romantic fallacies of the dominance of reason 
and the perfectibility of man. 

2. Freudianism; which, as commonly misunderstood, effects a partial 
or complete transference of individual responsibility to environ- 
ment and upbringing. 

3. All systems that exonerate man's virtue by lowering the standards 
by which he is to be judged. Under this heading come the 
'moral realists', Nietzschean, Neo-Machiavellian, Syndicalist and 
Freudian. 3 

4. Hegelianism and its modifications which regard the ethical sub- 
stance itself as capable of internal division or fission; in certain 
circumstances resolving that substance into two or more conflict- 
ing claims, each justified in itself, but bringing about destruction 
when one is pushed to the exclusion of the other. 4 

5. Combinations of these; of which one variant is romantic 
nationalism, as expressed in all 'power' philosophies, which 
also seek to externalize responsibility, 5 and which are rooted 
in what Jaspers calls 'the margin of awareness beyond power'. 

1 Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist. 

1 Luke xu,t4* 

8 M. F. Thelen, Man as Sinner, p. 23. 

4 Cf. Bradley, Hegel's Theory of Tragedy, in Oxford Lectures on Poetry. 

* A particularly effective Nazi poster of 1939 snowed a map of Germany ringed with 
menacing guns: the enemies who sought to annihilate a contented defenceless Germany. 
(Consider also the demand for Lebensraum.) 


We may remember that immature tragedy, such as Romeo and Juliet, 
and immature characters in the greater tragedies, seek relief in just 
such a transference. The stars look down on the psychiatrist's consult- 

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, 
often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the 
sun, the moon and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity, fools by 
heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and treachers, by spherical predomin- 
ance, drunkards, liars and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary 
influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable 
evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of 
a star! l 


The tragic theory of Hardy is important, not because of its embodi- 
ment in The Dynasts, but as offering the sole consciously-formulated 
'philosophy* of a poet. 

In a dramatic epic which I may perhaps assume The Dynasts to be 
some philosophy of life was necessary, and I went on using that which I had 
denoted in my previous volumes of verse (and to some extent prose) as 
being a generalized form of what the thinking world had gradually come 
to adopt, myself included. That the Unconscious Will of the Universe is 
growing aware of Itself I believe I may claim as my own idea solely at 
which I arrived by reflecting that what has already taken place in a fraction 
of the whole (i.e., so much of the world as has become conscious) is likely to 
take place in the mass; and there being no Will outside the mass that is, the 
Universe the whole Will becomes conscious thereby: and ultimately, it is 
to be hoped, sympathetic . . . 

This theory, too, seems to me to settle the question of Free- Will vs. 
Necessity. The will of a man is, according to it, neither wholly free nor 
wholly unfree. When swayed by the Universal Will (which he mostly must 
be as a subservient part of it) he is not individually free; but whenever it 
happens that all the rest of the Great Will is in equilibrium the minute 
portion called one person's will is free, just as a performer's fingers are free 
to go on playing the pianoforte of themselves when he talks or thinks of 
something else and the head does not rule them. 2 

Elsewhere Hardy speaks of *It* as the Prime Cause or Invariable 
Antecedent. It seems probable that neither this theory, nor the illustra- 
tive simile that concludes the passage, is entirely satisfactory. 'It* is too 

1 Lear, I. ii. 122. * Cit. South worth, pp. 215-16. 


abstracted, too ponderously distant in its operation, to satisfy our 
minds: nor does a growth of collective will into a harmony (still less 
a sympathetic one) find supporting evidence in history. If 'It' or the 
Prime Cause is felt to explain Hardy's tragic vision in the novels, its 
operation appears to sway between impassivity and malice. It is a 
tragic vision that sees human frailty, lust, cruelty, the transitoriness of 
man set against the miracle of the countryside, beautiful or menacing, 
in a style of scrupulous austerity. The Immanent Will gives no hope, 
and its world is full of pity and fear, but without resolution. So of 
Tess walking at night: 

It is then that the plight of being alive becomes attenuated to its least 
possible dimensions. She had no fear of the shadows; her sole idea seemed to 
be to shun mankind or rather that cold accretion called the world, which, 
so terrible in the mass, is so unformidable, even pitiable, in its units . . . 

Yet it is difficult to deny the title of tragedy to the great novels; but 
it seems to me a tragedy which grows out of their background in 
Wcsscx, and the curiously remote viewpoint of their creator. It is a 
tragedy that drifts, a little hopelessly, on a grey current, pausing for 
a moment to find, in its eddies and backwaters, those qualities of 
nobility, patience, charity; but it is not concerned to show those 
qualities vindicated in conflict. 

The Christian solution will depend largely on the views of the nature 
of sin which emerge in the course of theological evolution; a process 
which may be thought to show something of a circular tendency. The 
absolute prohibitions of the Decalogue gave way in nineteenth-century 
Liberal Theology to a concept verging on the relativist. Tennant, 
because of his great influence, is a useful starting point: 

Non-Christian or non-theistic philosophy is free, if it choose, to employ 
a single term for both imperfection and sin. 1 

It is not ever,y unfaithfulness to God that constitutes a violation of the 
rights of men, and gives them a title to reproach us. 2 

So we have his definition of sin: 

Sin will be imperfect compliance (in single volitional activity or in 
character resulting from such activities) with the moral idea in so far as this 

1 The Concept of Sin, p. 48. a Ibid., p. 22. 


is, in the sight of God, capable of apprehension by an agent at the moment 
of the activity in question both as to its content and its claim upon him; this 
imperfect compliance being consequent upon the choice of ends of lower 
ethical worth when the adoption of ends of higher worth is possible, and 
being regarded in its religious aspect (which may in some cases be wanting). 1 

It will be seen that the effect of Tennant's definition is, in Thelen's 
words, 'to reduce sin to one of the many evils which plague human 
existence. A good part of the evil which Augustinian theology has 
relied upon in establishing the truth of original sin is found by Tennant 
not to be sinful because not done in full responsibility/ a On the other 
hand, Tennant insisted that 'science does not imply that sin is merely 
the survival of necessary appetites or habits'. 3 

Against this we may set the view of Reinhold Niebuhr, as repre- 
sentative of modern 'Realistic* theology: 

The temptation to sin lies ... in the human situation itself. This situation 
is that man as spirit transcends the natural and temporal process in which he is 
involved and also transcends himself. Thus his freedom is the basis of his 
creativity but it is also his temptation. 4 

Niebuhr *s statement is so profound, and is sufficiently borne out by 
tragic experience, as to require further consideration. It can be shown 
to account both for human guilt, the splendour of the heroic effort 
in defeat, the characteristic impatience of the hero with the observed 
realities, with time and space. Man is perceived as sinning through his 
effort to raise himself above the norm, the man of great stature who 
cannot perceive his own limitations or those of the world which he 
desires to re-shape. So Antigone, Faustus, and Faust, Macbeth and Peer 
Gynt, in as many different ways. Niebuhr thus agrees, in part, with 
Julius Bab: 'Tragic guilt is not ethical, it is on the contrary, meta- 
physical, that is to say, innate.' 6 In an earlier work Niebuhr develops 
the idea in another direction: 

The pretensions of human cultures and civilizations are the natural con- 
sequences of a profound and ineradicable difficulty in all human spirituality. 
Man is mortal. That is his fate. Man pretends not to be mortal. That is his 
sin. Man is a creature of time and place, whose perspectives and insights are 
invariably conditioned by his immediate circumstances . . . Thus man builds 

1 The Concept of Sin, p. 245. * Thelen, op. cit., p. 21. * Ibid., p. 22. 

4 Nature and Destiny of Man, p. 266. 

5 Quoted by Volkelt, op. cit., p. 140: who cites Hebbel in the same sense: The absolute 
qua absolute, is guilt-laden in the metaphysical sense.' 


towers * of the spirit from which he may survey larger horizons than those 
of his class, race and nation. This is a necessary human enterprise. Without it 
man could not come to his full estate. But it is also inevitable that these 
towers should be Towers of Babel, that they should pretend to reach higher 
than their real height; and should claim a finality which they cannot pos- 
sess . . . The higher the tower is built to escape unnecessary limitations of 
the human imagination, the more certain it will be to defy necessary and 
inevitable limitations. Thus sin corrupts the highest as well as the lowest 
achievements of human life. Human pride is greatest when it is based on 
solid achievements; but the achievements are never great enough to justify 
its pretensions. This pride is at least one aspect of what Christian orthodoxy 
means by 'original sin*. It is not so much an inherited corruption as an in- 
evitable taint upon the spirituality of a finite creature, always enslaved to 
time and place, never completely enslaved and always under the illusion that 
the measure of his emancipation is greater than it really is. 2 

The Christian answer is implicit in the assumption that, while the 
world is evolutionary in character, it is not designed for 'the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number*. Any assumption that it is leads to 
moral confusion in face of the observed facts. The pleasure-pain system 
has noplace in it. Its retributive processes are far from being mechanical; 
since, as Niebuhr points out, a divine judgement includes redemption 
and resurrection, and so cannot be purely retributive. If the highest 
good is to be attained, pain and suffering are natural and logical aspects 
of the system, of birth and re-birth, symbolized in the Crucifixion and 
Resurrection. I believe that, with certain modifications, Niebuhr's 
position is capable of representation in such a manner as to show that 
it covers most of the 'tragic fact', and that it does, on the whole, fall 
within most of the traditional metaphysical explanations. 

1. Spirit is the term used for 'the impulse to subject the individual or 
social ego to the universal even to the point of self-annihilation or 
absprbtion'. 3 Spirituality is not merely rationality but reason, will 
and emotion acting together to see life in its total relationships 
and also to 'feel* an obligation toward the whole of life. 4 

2. Nature is the impulse to universalize the ego even to the point of 
destroying or enslaving all competing forms of life. 

1 The Tower image is archetypal, and endless examples in poetry will be recalled. The 
Lightning-Struck Tower, which symbolizes the defeat of human aspirations by die 
Incalculable, is the Thirteenth Card of the Tarot Pack. 

1 Beyond Tragedy, pp. 28 ff. * cit. Thelcn, p. 72. 

4 What follows is entirely from this source. 


3. These two contradictory impulses lie at the root of the human 

4. The ethic of Jesus taken by itself is an inadequate guide for the 
problems of to-day. 

5. We must therefore be supplemented by a restoration of the con- 
cept of two kinds of natural law 

jus naturale and jus gentium, the former embodying the absolute demands 
of equality and freedom and the latter regulating the government, 
coercion, conflict, and slavery existing in the historic institutions of 
society. 1 

This immediately suggests the Greek dichotomy: 

To any rational thinker it is at once clear that Dike, Natural Order, and 
Themis, Social Order, are not the same, nay even they are not mother 
and daughter; they stand at the two poles remote and even alien. 
Natural Law is from the beginning; from the first pulse of life, nay 
even before the beginning of that specialized movement which we 
know as life, it rules over what we call the inorganic. Social Order, 
morality, * goodness* is not in nature at the outset; it only appears with 
'man her last work'. 2 

6. Man is infinite in the sense that his mind constantly seeks to 
relate all particular events to the totality of the real. He is finite 
in that this same mind is itself 'embedded in the passing flux, a 
tool of a finite organism, the instrument of its physical necessities, 
and a prisoner of the partial perspectives of a limited time and 
space'. 3 

7. The origin of sin arises from man's pretensions by denying his 
own finiteness. 4 From this arises personal, national and inter- 
national conflict. 

Ideally men seek to subject their arbitrary and contingent existence 
under the dominion of absolute reality. But practically they always mix 
the finite with the eternal, and claim for themselves, their nation, their 
culture, or their class the centre of existence. This is the root of all 
imperialism in man and explains why the restricted predatory impulses 
of the animal world are transmuted into the boundless imperial am- 
bitions of human life. 5 

8. It is this very blindness and self-deception which constitute the 

1 N. & D. t p. 143: Thclen, p. 76. *Jane Harrison. Themis, p. 534. 

1 N. & D., p. 66: Thclen, p. 78. Hamlet's thoughts on the matter will be remembered. 
4 Thelen, p. 80. * Cit. Thelen, p. 80. 


mystery of sin. For it is really a mystery. No one, not even the 
most astute psychologist, has ever made a perfectly convincing 
analysis of the comparative degrees of ignorance and dishonesty 
which enter into it. 1 (Consider Donne's 'Nequissima animae 
ignorantia* and the aphorism 'God sends on men strong delusion 
that they shall believe a he.') 

Actually, man always deceives himself into believing that evil is good 
before he is able to choose it. This self-deception is partly unconscious, 
as Freud and Marx discerned; but it is also partly deliberate, as is proved 
by the fact that in his regret or remorse after the deed man confesses 
that he was not fully deceived; and so man cannot be absolved from 
responsibility for his Fall. 2 

This position, which does not (in my view) exclude a theatre which 
accepts some or all of the traditional elements of tragedy, may be 
summarized as follows: 

1. There are three forms of evil. 

(a) Intellectual Evil or Error. 

(b) Emotional Evil or Suffering. 

(c) Moral Evil or Sin. 3 

2. Error consists in unwarrantable synthesis: a failure, not in the 
emphasis placed upon a judgement, but in a failure to distinguish 
the qualities of things. From another point of view we may 
quote Martin Buber: 'There is no evil impulse but that which 
is separated from the whole being.' 

3. Emotional Evil or suffering. This, when it befalls the innocent 
or noble, and only then, is seen at its purest and highest, and most 
terrible. It is the cry of the Agony in the Garden, of Job con- 
fronting his friends; in both cases it is the momentary failure of 
the conscience under agony, and is the prelude to enlightenment. 

4. Moral Evil is a direct and willed violation of a known and 
accepted law, which is abrogated for a variety of reasons under 
the direction of the Will. 4 

1 Thclen, p. 85. * Thelen, p. 95- 

8 Cf. Temple, Metis Creatrix, p. 273. I am indebted in many ways to this book. 
4 The psychology of dictatorship is of interest here: as of all theories that glorify the 
Will as an absolute. 


5. In all three cases 'affliction* J is a real aspect of the human situa- 

6. This human situation is under God. Therefore, ultimately, it 
must be good. But, because of our finite nature, our faith can 
never be sufficiently perfect to prevent our awareness of this 
conflict: as between the finite and immediate experience and 
suffering, and its ultimate resolution in time. 

7. The awakening, or recognition of this human predicament, pro- 
jected, as it were outwards (as against the normal response to 
personal suffering, which is egocentric) in compassion in its 
literal sense: co-suffering, embracing pity and fear. 

8. This compassion lies at the heart of Christianity, since it is 
through the recognition of, and unity with, the fact of Christ 
crucified that the ultimate redemption of man's sin is perceived. 
But the ultimate reconciliation is only made possible by love 
(itself the last perfection of compassion, and transcending it), 
and therefore compassion comes to have a value in and of itself. 

9. The awareness of the tragic fact depends both upon an intellec- 
tual acceptance of the human predicament, and a spiritual 
perception of its resolution in suffering. 

10. The statement of the tragic theatre enables us to perceive in a 
focus that differs sufficiently from real life to present an ordered 
and progressive induction to this compassion. For this purpose 
it may and often does show evil as 'isolated* or 'pure'. 2 

11. By its formal qualities, or by the 'hint of reconciliation', or by 
both the play is perceived, both in its immediate aspect as 
rousing 'compassion', and in its wider aspect as sub specie 

12. The combination of these two responses, both aspects of man 
as the creature of God, destined by Him to attain love through 
compassion, and in faith of ultimate union with Him. There are 
thus co-existent in the tragic response a sense of suffering, and 
of a deep serenity for which 'pleasure' is an inadequate term. 
We may approximate to it in the term 'satisfaction' in the most 
profound sense; but we are thus confronted with a number of 
problems of character, which are discussed in the next chapter. 

1 In the sense used by Simone Weil, Waiting on GoJ,pp.63 ff. 'Affliction is an uprooting 
of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul 
by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain.' 

1 It appears from the practice of the theatre that attempts to show 'neutral* or highly 
complex shades of evil are generally ill-suited to the tragic rhythm. 


I have not at this stage attempted to consider Niebuhr's views of 
Atonement and Redemption as essentials of the Christian position. All 
I would suggest at present is that the views presented afford an adequate 
explanation of the fact and experience of tragedy; of the generation 
of evil through man's infinite desire, and of his blindness to his situa- 
tion. It is thus that we can account for the failure of the tragic hero 
to perceive his place and function in time, and hence the ultimate con- 
sequence of his actions. They cover, under the term 'presumption', 1 
the commonest form of hubris. They account for the internal conflict, 
in that the two sides of man's nature are in a constant state of tension: 
for the Internal-External conflict in so far as he seeks to change the 
image of the external world, in obedience to what Nicbuhr calls 
'imperialism'. If, for the moment, the problem of evil can be viewed 
in this light we can go on to consider some anthropological elements 
that may be apparent in Tragic Man. 

1 Cf. Shaw's St Joan. 


Myth, Ritual and Release 

(Richard II) is typical not because he ever existed, but because he made 
us know something in our own minds we had never known of had he never 
been imagined. 

w. B. YEATS * 

The conflict of the material and spiritual aspects of life only shows that 
the psychic is in the last resort an incomprehensible something. 



MY purpose in this chapter is to suggest that a proportion of the 
pleasure and the effect of tragedy is to be accounted for by its impact, 
mainly unconscious, upon certain activities of the mind. The dangers 
of such a subject are many. Anthropology that leads to religious and 
philosophical speculation is all too easily misused, too readily filed and 
adjusted in order to fit subjective presuppositions. On the other hand 
the evidence for the myth, and for its expression through the archetypal 
image, seems now to be acceptable as a basis for discussion. We may 
quote at the outset Kcrenyi's formulation of the nature of the myth: 
since the connotations of that word in dramatic theory are both 
vague and unfortunate: 

The word 'myth' [says Kere"nyi] is altogether too equivocal, blunted and 
hazy for our purpose; it does not give us as much of a start as the expressions 
that combine the word juvOog with the word Ayeiv, meaning 'to put to- 
gether', 'say'. Plato, himself a great 'teller of myths', teaches us from his own 
experience something of the vitality and mobility of what the Greeks called 
fjivQoXoyia. This is an art alongside and included within poetry (the two 
fields overlap), an art with a special assumption as regards its subject-matter. 
A particular land of material determines the art of mythology, an imme- 
morial and traditional body of material contained in tales about gods and 
god-like beings, heroic battles and journeys to the Underworld mytho- 
logem is the best Greek word for them tales already well known but not 
unamenable to further reshaping. Mythology is the movement of this 

1 Plays and Controversies, p. 93. 
1 Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 219. 


material: it is something solid and yet mobile, substantial and yet not static, 
capable of transformation . . . 

In a true mythologem this meaning is not something that could be ex- 
pressed just as well and just as fully in a non-mythological way . . . Just as 
music has a meaning that is satisfying in the sense that every meaningful 
whole is satisfying, so every true mythologem has its satisfying meaning. 
This meaning is so hard to translate into the language of science because it 
can be fully expressed only in mythological terms. 1 

The evidence for the existence of such mythological material on a 
world scale, a material which is 'self-born, born anew' because it 
corresponds to deep-seated human needs, is sufficiently strong: 

In the dream, as in the products of psychoses, there are numberless com- 
binations to which one can find parallels only in mythological associations of 
ideas (or perhaps in certain poetic creations which are often characterized by 
a borrowing, not always conscious, from myths). Had thorough investiga- 
tion shown that in the majority of such cases it was simply a matter of forgotten 
knowledge, the physician would not have gone to the trouble of making 
extensive researches into individual and collective parallels. But, in point of 
fact, typical mythologems were observed among individuals to whom all 
knowledge of this kind was absolutely out of the question, and where in- 
direct derivation from religious ideas that might have been known to them, 
or from popular figures of speech, was impossible. Such conclusions forced 
us to assume that we must be dealing with 'autochthonous' revivals inde- 
pendent of all tradition, and, consequently, that 'myth-forming* structural 
elements must be present in the unconscious psyche. 2 

We can use for this collective unconscious the term 'The Great 
Memory', as Yeats uses it. But it is important to note that, as myth 
evolves in history, it is Protean and regenerative in its forms 

Those images that yet 
Fresh images beget. 

and this fact adds immeasurably to the difficulties and uncertainties of 
interpretation. So 

These products are never (or at least very seldom) myths with a definite 
form, but rather mythological components which, because of their typical 
nature, we can call 'motifs', 'primordial images', types or as I have named 
them archetypes. ... In the individual, the archetypes occur as involuntary 
manifestations of unconscious processes whose existence and meaning can 

1 Jung and Ker^nyi: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, pp. 3 flf. 
1 Ibid., pp. 99 (G. C. Jung). 


only be inferred, whereas the myth deals with traditional forms of incal- 
culable age. 1 

Here we must note specifically the nature of the archetypes, for they 
can be easily misunderstood. They are not the idfes innfes: they are 
only dispositions to the formation of images, which are only encoun- 
tered directly through their manifestations. They have something in 
common with Goethe's 'Eminent Instances'. A general image may be 
expressed symbolically in many ways. It seems likely that a disposition 
to expand and express consciousness through their means is inherited, 
and that like many normal inherited gifts, it can be cultivated. 2 At the 
same time we must proceed very cautiously: for the exegetical process 
as applied to this subject may easily become confusing and may (unless 
we are careful to return continually to each mythologem in its parti- 
cular setting) render it desiccated and impotent. All images are sensitive, 
as it were, to their context. The life blood of a conception grows 
thinner as it becomes more universal. 

The presence of mythological elements in tragedy will be apparent 
in two ways: 

1. From the occurrence of certain root situations, whether overtly 
in a multitude of disguises, as corresponding to a recurrent 
communal problem. These can be further subdivided into 

(a) the relationship of the leader to the community, including 
his power, mediatorship or priesthood, death and sacrifice, 

(b) his relationship to individuals who are closer than the 
community, involving specific relationships with which his 
obligations as a leader may conflict. 

2. From the emergence of certain archetypal images, modes of 
language originally involved in such myths but surviving as 
keys to the latent emotion that once adhered to them, and which 
arc still apparent through the pressure of the unconscious as 
shown in various manifestations. 

For the moment, if we accept this position, we can proceed to 
further propositions as they affect the tragic form. 

1 Jung and Kere*nyi: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, pp. 99-100 (Jung). 
1 Consider Yeats's experiments with the stimulation of 'visions', clearly archetypal in 
their nature, by means of 'triggers* of various kinds. 


All dramatic performances, and particularly tragedy, have a 
well-defined ritual aspect, which has tended to become overlaid 
with the passing of time. It is most strongly marked in Aeschylus, 
negligible in Ibsen except perhaps in Brand and Peer Gynt, 
recovered (in part) by Synge, Eliot and Yeats. Recent critics 
of Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy find that ritual occurs 
extensively in them. The further these roots are traced back the 
more strongly this ritual element appears. Such ritual is a dis- 
guised and at the same time formal version recalling or com- 
memorating or connected with archetypal experiences. The 
chief among these experiences are as follows: 
The Hero, in his birth, upbringing, kingship, death and burial, 
can be shown to follow a pattern which is common, or largely 
so, to a large number of typical figures. Lord Raglan * enumer- 
ates twenty-two steps in what we may call the standard fable, 
and finds that most of them are, in one form or another, included 
in his selection of Heroes. He takes his examples from (among 
others) Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Herakles, Perseus, Jason, 
Bcllerophon, Pelops, Asclepios, Dionysus, Apollo, Zeus, Joseph 
(son of Jacob), Moses, Elijah, Sigurd, Arthur, Robin Hood. 
The slaying of the Old King has a well-defined ritual value. It 
does not matter whether he is perceived as the Father, or the 
Old Year, or Pharmakos the Scapegoat. From the point of view 
of the worshipper, or of the spectator, the measure of identifica- 
tion achieved with him offers a release to the commoner power- 
fantasies originally repressed. (Instances from child and adult 
psychology, and from the history of magic and fairy tales, are 
too numerous to quote.) His death affords a satisfactory termina- 
tion to those fantasies (as the natural processes of adolescence 
demand) without impairing the self-esteem of the spectator: 
who thus obtains relief from the burden of jealous emulation, 
envy, and the feeling of helplessness before superior strength 
now obeying its cyclic decline. King Lear is typical of such a 
pattern; the waning powers of the Old King afford the normal 
pretext for his dethronement and death. Lear is at once the 
egoist, the breaker of the social order, a kind of 'imperialist' 
(in Nietzsche's sense) in reverse, and finally, a violator of the 
fundamental law of self-knowledge. 'He hath ever but slenderly 
known himself.' 

1 The Hero, Chapters XVI-XVIII. 


4. At the same time the King's death has a primitive sacrificial 
value; not merely for the community who find in it the scape- 
goat-function as well as a fertility-value linked to their welfare, 
but for the individual who has already made his psychological 
transference to a greater or less degree. (Consider Strindberg's 
The Father.) In civilized communities this sacrifice may achieve 
high ethical levels, as it does in most of Greek Tragedy. Oedipus 
suffers for the sake of Thebes, Orestes for his father, Alcestis for 
her husband, Prometheus for mankind, Antigone for her brother, 
Iphigenia for Hellas. Macbeth (after the murders) offers himself, 
if we take a somewhat unusual point of view, as a sacrifice for 
Scotland. Perhaps Lear docs so for England, for the sake of the 
unity which he had destroyed. In modern tragedy, Ibsen's Brand 
takes upon himself the sins of his people in his progress to the Ice- 
Cave: Becket accepts his death for the sake of the Church, though 
there is also an element of personal atonement in his actions. 

5. The dying hero can also take upon himself, voluntarily or in- 
voluntarily, the sins of the people. The process may be conscious 
or unconscious, active or passive. The kings of the Shakespearian 
history play are loaded at their end with a kind of collective 
responsibility for the many kinds of evil which have been freed 
(by whatever agencies) during their reign. Such characters may 
be shaded in many ways. King John starts with a fatal taint: 
the Bastard assumes the task of speaking for England, while the 
King becomes a scapegoat. Richard III represents, in a simplicity 
that verges on melodrama, the cycle of crime and nemesis; more 
distantly, the releasing offeree with all its repercussions, until the 
resolution comes in a ritual Dance of Death the procession of 
the ghosts being the prologue to the death of the King. 
Richard II falls in a natural though accelerated curve, and the 
rays of the whole country's evil, perceived in many facets, 
converge upon him. At Bolingbroke's coming the slate is wiped 
clean, of all but the question of the usurper's right, which is a 
dormant menace until he in turn passes beyond the zenith of 
his fortunes. But the problem of heredity is always with him, 
shadowed even at the end of Richard II: the rebellion of youth 
against age, the uneasy retention of power. And the speculations 
as to power and responsibility attain their clearest and most 
ironical statement in Henry V's soliloquy on the night before 


6. The hero, man, king, or God, is killed in his prime for one or 
more of several reasons: to avoid the decay or destruction of the 
community which will follow on his waning powers; 1 to 
placate, consciously or unconsciously, individual or communal 
jealousy; to ensure that his soul goes to its dwelling place in the 
purity that death in his prime, or near it, can give. 2 

7. From his own point of view the hero may have much in 
common with the Byronic or anti-social type of hero, whose 
psychological components we have already suggested. He is 
isolated by his very condition: he sees clearly the possibilities of 
his powers: he is made, at the last, violently aware of their 
limitations. Basically, he is liable to the suggestions of the 
Todtentrieb', self-sacrifice, suicide, the last battle against over- 
whelming odds, present satisfying dramatic solutions to this type 
of mind. We may suspect that the motives are often highly 
complex; both the heroic and anti-social qualities may well be 
associated in the fantasy-world in which he lives, the power 
which he desires so intensely, and the excesses of deed and word 
by which he seeks perpetually to reassure himself as to his own 
stature. Tamburlaine and Mr Eliot's Becket of Canterbury are 
at opposite poles in their disinterestedness. 

8. 'We must therefore recognize two distinct and seemingly 
opposite features in these ceremonies: on the one hand sorrow for 
the death, and affection and respect for the dead; on the other 
hand, fear and hatred of the dead, and rejoicings at his death/ 3 

9. 'It may be suspected that the custom of employing a divine 
man or animal is much more widely diffused than appears from 
the examples cited . . . Thus the killing of a god may sometimes 
come to be confounded with the execution of a criminal.' 4 

10. 'So many broken lines seemingly (converge) towards the 
Cross on Calvary . . .' 5 

Myth displays the working of unconscious complexes; aggressive- 
ness between parents and children, sexual jealousy, the desire for a 
magical shortening of the normal roads to an objective. The King 

1 The slaying, in fact or wish, of the Dictator-Tyrant, is of interest: from Agamemnon 
to Mussolini. The effigies, burnt or mutilated in various Italian villages on the news of the 
latter's death, seemed to effect a peculiar release of tensions. 

* Frazer, The Dying God, p. 10. * Ibid., p. 264. 

4 Frazer, The Scapegoat, p. 227. 8 Ibid., p. 414. 


stands for the father. The virility of the father-hero-king, his jealousy 
of his possible supplanter, his assumption of peculiar powers through 
an unnatural or divine birth, are all part of the pattern. The danger to 
the new-born hero-child, the intervention of miraculous agencies to 
nurture it after it has been exposed to die, are familiar incidents. 

These considerations offer interesting parallels with ritual practices. 
The hero-God suffers and is slain; because he has outlived the cycle of 
his reign, because the power which he wields has passed the bounds of 
moderation and what is desirable for the health of the State, because 
there are associated with him the complex feelings of hatred, fear, 
respect for his powers whether physical or magical, and a lingering 
terror that, at the last, he may produce a magical revival of power and 
revenge himself on the wolf-pack that is closing about him. Thus it 
comes about that his death suggests something both of relief and of 
safety. Prospero's action in destroying his magical equipment is 

It is therefore clear that a double tide is running in the spectator of the 
tragic pattern. He is aware consciously of a definite set of social and 
political values. The king or hero is the saviour of the State. Conscious 
projection, even identification, towards him is a normal feeling, 
encouraged by tradition and upbringing. Illness or danger affecting 
him has an instant depressive effect, which modern democratic values 
have failed to eliminate. The 'ambitious' types of projection, towards 
power, great place, wealth, dignity of bearing, are all sanctioned by 
society, and are probably not amenable to 'rational' evaluation. 

Thus arises the perpetual paradox of the spectator's identification 
with the tragic hero, the transference to him of individual and collective 
responsibility, the vicarious satisfaction in perceiving the fulfilment of 
the cyclic law of power that waxes and wanes, and the satisfaction of 
complex and contradictory impulses at his death. These satisfactions 
are achieved in a state of intense excitement: which is both expressed 
by, and arises from, the poetic statement. 

'It is especially at times when barriers of personal repression are 
removed and images of "cosmic" character are arising freely, that the 
fantasy figure may appear of some great prophet who tends to assume 
control of the personality.' l 

The results of this identification, and the tragic experience arising 
from it, have been formulated by Miss Bodkin in what seems to me to 
be the most suggestive account yet written of the tragic balance or 
1 Bodkin, Archetypal Patterns, p. 18. 


release. It will be seen that the view has some kinship with that of 

The experience of tragic drama both gives in the figure of the hero an 
objective form to the self of imaginative aspiration, or to the power-craving, 
and also, through the hero's death, satisfies the counter-movement of feeling 
toward the surrender of personal claims and the merging of the ego within 
a greater power the 'community consciousness*. 

Thus the archetypal pattern corresponding to tragedy may be said to be a 
certain organization of the tendencies of assertion and self-submission. The 
self which is asserted is magnified by that same collective force to which 
finally submission is made; and from the tension of the two impulses and their 
reaction upon each other, under the conditions of poetic exaltation, the dis- 
tinctive tragic attitude and emotion appears to arise. 1 

The removal of these personal repressions, the breaking down of the 
barriers, can be seen in that kind of rhetoric which expresses and 
releases the histrionic element in humanity; which can perhaps be 
described as a projection of personality above itself by language 
that consciously aligns the speaker with noble or heroic conduct in 
the past or future; some element of this conduct attaching itself to him 
by the magic of words. In rising to these heights he is at once asserting 
his stature as the hero and as the victim. Sophocles, Shakespeare, 
Racine and Yeats provide examples. On a more recent scale we can 
see its operation in O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Elektra. 

The second current is unconscious to a greater or less degree. Again 
it is probably double in character. The fantasies of which we have 
spoken approve his death, rejoice in a fulfilment of the cyclic law; at 
the same time they shrink from the disruption of the family or cosmic 
pattern which that death involves. 

It seems likely that we must ascribe to these ambivalences the 
so-called immorality of tragedy. The tragic response is, in fact, a 
continuous process of oscillation between desires whose poles are 
positive and negative, both in the conscious and unconscious. For that 
reason we must recognize the perpetual inconsistencies in it. A quota- 
tion from Yeats throws some light on the matter: 

The character, whose fortune we have been called in to see, or the per- 
sonality of the writer, must keep our sympathy, and whether it be farce or 
tragedy, we must laugh and weep with him and call down blessings on his 
head. The character who delights us may commit murder like Macbeth, or 
fly the battle for his sweetheart as did Antony, or betray his country like 

* Ibid., p. 23. 


Coriolanus, and yet we will rejoice in every happiness that comes to him 
and sorrow at his death as if it were our own. It is no use telling us that the 
murderer and the betrayer do not deserve our sympathy . . . Complain of 
us if you will, but it will be useless, for before the curtain falls, a thousand 
ages, grown conscious in our sympathies, will have cried Absolve Te . . . 
We understand the verdict and not the law; and yet there is some law, some 
code, some judgment. If the poet's hand had slipped, if Antony had railed 
at Cleopatra in the tower, if Coriolanus had abated that high pride of his 
in the presence of death, we might have gone away muttering the Ten 
Commandments. 1 

The boundary-line between ritual and ceremony is not easy to 
discern. Donne speaks of 'Ritual and ceremonial things which . . . are 
the subsidies of religion/ We shall do no violence if we use ritual in 
the sense of an ordered ceremonial, which has or has had in the past a 
frame of reference to a religious or numinous view of human living, 
and which can be traced back to such a concept, if the memory 
can be revived. On such a basis, processions, pageants, dances, feasts, 
can be retraced to their beginnings, and seen as the outcome of the 
human desire to impose a rhythm or pattern upon a sequence of events 
so as to present in them a significance which is, remotely or im- 
mediately, allegorical in kind; and, above all, perspicuous because of 
their pattern. We may remember Hero and Leander. 

Thus she appear'd, and sharply did reprove 

Leander's bluntness in his violent love; 

Told him how poor was substance without rites, 

Like bills unsign'd; desires without delights; 

Like meats unseasoned; like rank corn that grows 

On cottages, and none or reaps or sows; 

Not being with civil forms confirm'd and bounded, 

For human dignities and comforts founded; 

But loose and secret all their glories hide; 

Fear fills the chamber, Darkness decks the bride. 2 

Fergusson in his analysis of Hamlet finds civil or military or religious 
ritual in various parts of the play, serving to gather together the threads 
of the plot and to remind us of the 'traditional social values'. 3 Such 
scenes are: the changing of the Guard, Claudius's First Court, the blend 
of ritual and entertainment in Hamlet's Play; Ophelia's madness ('a 

1 Plays and Controversies, pp. 103-4. * Third Sestiad. 

* The Idea of a Theatre, pp. 113 ff. 


mock ritual, a mixture of false and lewd marriage, and false and savage 
funeral'); Ophelia's funeral 'a maimed rite, but a real death'; the 
duel between Hamlet and Laertes with 'every element in it false or 
mistaken: a mockery of invocation'. 

If it is construed in this way, 'ritual' covers a wide area. We may 
perhaps divide it up into two groups; ritual which in drama refers to 
or recalls directly a civil and religious ceremonial within the knowledge 
of the audience, and ritual which is oblique to their knowledge, 1 
evidenced in image or symbol only. To the first group belong all 
processions, dances, law trials, marriages, funerals. The second group 
is far more obscure. We may suggest tentatively that the following 
represent buried or unconscious ritual: 

1. The slaying (or its equivalent) of the King. The actors may be 
partly conscious of a special significance in this, as in Julius Caesar: 

Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods, 
Not hew him as a carcase fit for hounds. 

2. The encounter with the numinous: the hero who goes to 
challenge or consult oracle or ghost, often in the symbolic Cave. 

3. The Virgin as Helper, Mediator, the Triple Goddess, Mother. 

4. The appearance of the magical Child. 2 

5. Seasonal imagery, particularly that which is connected with re- 

6. Incidents or imagery involving mythological type-contests, such 
as the epic of the one against the many, the contest with dragon, 
serpent or other monster, 

7. which often involve the idea of the Secret Helper. 

8. Purification and humbling. 

9. Apotheosis and resurrection. 

As images that may be connected with these we have those clusters 
connected with sun, moon and stars; the horse in its metamorphoses, 
including the centaur; ritual beheading and the Singing Head; 3 the 
sword and its cognate images; fertility images, and their innumerable 
analogies with the human situation; the sea as a life and death image; 
the tree; the Cave and the Desert. 

1 How much is, in fact, oblique to our conscious awareness is apparent, say, from 
A. W. Watts's Myth and Ritual in Christianity. 
1 Jung and Kcr^nyi, op. cit. t Ch. I. 
1 Cf. the wide incidence of the Jael-Holoferncs-John the Baptist themes in painting. 



Now the 'release', which I use in preference to catharsis, seems to be 
the point at which the tragic theory of I. A. Richards converges upon 
the philosophy of Jung. For Richards the peculiar poise of the tragic 
experience 'arises out of the relation between the two sets of impulses. 
Pity and Terror'. 1 The result is a 'balanced poise, stable through its 
power of inclusion, not through the force of its exclusions'. 2 But this 
is a general characteristic of all artistic experiences of the highest value, 
the balance or equilibrium of the response. 'The equilibrium of 
opposed impulses, which we suspect to be the ground-plan of the most 
valuable aesthetic responses, brings into playj&r more of our personality 
than is possible in experiences of a more defined emotion.' 3 

Richards's hierarchy of appetencies, which seemed at one stage to 
have opened the way to a theory of value, has now revealed its in- 
completeness, perhaps because of his view at that time of a value- 
range dominated by utilitarian concepts. But the phrase that I have 
italicized, far more of our personality, is capable of much expansion, and 
such expansion does not run counter to Richards's own views. In 
some sense the experience of tragedy is a microcosm of being, the 
experience, at a greater or less distance, of fear, suffering, loneliness, 
pity. Spiritual maladies, of the kind to which Aristotle expressly refers, 
are in their essence conflicts of the subliminal. From another point of 
view, such conflicts are the single most important factor in denying 
the integration of personality, the power of progression. Tragedy 
presents an ordered ritual experience. Its myth, infinite in the forms 
that it may take, is continuously re-created in the poetic statement. 

Our approach in the theatre is one of great complexity. It seems 
certain that we see and recognize evil as akin to that latent in ourselves; 
and it is too naive a view to hold, with Gosson or Collier, that its 
manifestations are merely exempla for or against wrongdoing. Con- 
scious attitudes are probably compounded of moral superiority 
(because it is make-believe), a partial recognition of his kinship, but 
they are intellectually offset because they are under our control. 
Unconscious attitudes are a matter of speculation, and we must work 
by analogy. They belong to that realm of artistic creation that Jung 
called the visionary, and his account of it is so important that it must be 
quoted at length. 

1 Principles of Literary Criticism, p. 247. * lbid. t p. 248. 

1 Ibid., p. 251. 


The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no 
longer familiar. It is a strange something that derives its existence from 
the hinterland of man's mind that suggests the abyss of time separating us 
from pre-human ages, or evokes a super-human world of contrasting light 
and darkness . . . The value and force of the experience are given by its 
enormity. It arises from timeless depths; it is foreign and cold, many-sided, 
demonic and grotesque . . .The disturbing vision of monstrous and meaning- 
less happenings that in every way exceed the grasp of human feeling and 
comprehension makes quite other demands upon the powers of the artist 
than do the experiences of the foreground of life . . . But the primordial 
experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the 
vision of an ordered world, and allow a glimpse into the unfathomed abyss 
of what has not yet become. 1 

We have then, I suggest, in the tragic experience 

the perception of an order, imposed by the dramatist upon an 
experience which is bounded in time and space as an action, 

and as an action involves the ambivalent attitudes of recognition, 
participation in, and conscious rejection of major moral values, 
but which is unlimited in time and space by reason of 

its ritual values 

its ability to imply the existence of orders of various kinds 

its power, through its imagery in general and through the arche- 
types in particular, to convert subliminal forces into active 
agents for the integration of personality. 


It would be foolish to suggest either that all dramatic imagery is 
related to archetypal images, or that their effect is always towards a 
specific psychological relief. All we dare say is this: 

1. A very considerable degree of verification of these images as out- 
crops of the hidden reefs of the unconscious has been obtained 
through psychiatric analysis and interpretation. The archetypes 
are not on trial; their effect, on which we can only speculate 
subjectively, is. 

2. If drama, employing as it does a method of communication 
which presupposes a peculiarly intense state of emotional reaction 
in a collective field of influence^ found to embody such archetypes, 
part of their emotional effect may be reasonably attributed to the 

1 Modern Man in Search of a Soul, pp. 180-1. The hint of the Aristotelian 'Poetry is a 
more philosophical and a higher thing than history* is of interest. 


release of unconscious tensions relevant to the situations which 
that drama imitates. 

3 . The selection of the archetypes to which we respond is not, a 
priori, a matter of our conscious choice. We may again refer to 

In reality we can never legitimately cut loose from our archetypal 
foundations unless we are prepared to pay the price of a neurosis, any 
more than we can rid ourselves of our body and its organs without 
committing suicide. If we cannot deny the archetypes or otherwise 
neutralize them, we are confronted, at every new stage in the differ- 
entiation of consciousness to which civilization attains, with the task 
of finding a new interpretation appropriate to this stage, in order to 
connect the life of the past that still exists in us with the life of the 
present, that threatens to slip away from it. 1 

And if indeed those myths, and their expression through arche- 
typal images, might affect us in this way, we have, in this sense of 
release, both a partial explanation of the classic catharsis, a link with 
religious origins, and some explanation through 'those masterful 
images' of the exaltation that tragedy gives. 

1 Introduction to a Science of Mythology, pp. 105-6. 


'Let Mans Souk be a Spheare 9 

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this, 
The intelligence that moves, devotion is, 
And as the other Spheares, by being growne 
Subject to forraigne motions, lose their owne, 
And being by others hurried every day, 
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey: 
Pleasure or business, so, our Soules admit 
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it. 1 

All tragedy, so I would be inclined to state it, is a broad and deep 
account of the life of the individual, and, at least by inference, his fellows, m 
which neither man's problems, nor his ability to cope with them is belittled a 


IN an earlier chapter we considered some of the possible meanings 
that might be given to the Aristotelian hamartia, or tragic flaw. In 
carrying a stage further our speculations as to the psychology of the 
tragic protagonists, Donne's great image is of some service; not only 
because it is traditionally whether in the form of sphere or of circle 
a way of regarding the soul, but because it appears to embody certain 
archetypal qualities which poets have used to the full. Instances from 
Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Yeats, come readily to mind. It is an 
image which has many explicatory uses; as for example the armouring 
or hardening of the sphere, through received experience, in its en- 
deavours to attain security. 

If, for the sake of simplicity, we consider at first the circle rather than 
the sphere as an emblem of personality, we can suggest that there are 
two primary forces working upon it, in opposite directions; these will 
be the positive and active, and the negative or self-destructive elements 
respectively. Each force produces tensions in that portion of being on 
which it operates; the one struggling upwards to attain a position of 
superiority, spiritual or material, and therefore of safety, the other 
dragging downwards through the sense of inferiority. We can, if we 

1 Goodfriday, 1613, Riding Westward. 
a The Playwright as Thinker, p. 55. 


wish, elaborate the figure further to suggest the element of schizo- 
phrenia. In general, human nature can be seen in terms of an alterna- 
tion or oscillation between these psychic polarities; whatever the terms 
(such as Self and Anti-Self, Man and Mask, Spectre and Emanation) 
we may use to express them. 

The destructive impulse or sense of inferiority can be symbolized by 
a portion which is missing bitten out, as it were, from the lower 
portion of the circle and so fostering the sense of inferiority. This is, 
in fact, the hatnartia (in one sense at least), the joint in the armour. 
Opposing this, in the upper half of the circle, we may suppose a bubble 
or blister, the psychic compensation for the flaw which is often a 
deliberately-assumed contradictory aspect of personality. (The arro- 
gance of the basically shy, self-reassurance by rhetoric or histrionics, 
are convenient examples.) To the extent that it is assumed rather than 
an intrinsic aspect of personality this bubble or blister is liable to sudden 
pricking, deflation. But between the compensation and its correspond- 
ing defect a kind of oscillating movement takes place, complicated by a 
torsional effect of the two primary forces upon the whole. If the plain 
circle is then expanded imaginatively to a sphere, with corresponding 
complexities, the image will perhaps serve our purpose. As in Donne's 
poem, the psyche is 'subject to forraigne motions', that is, to external 
circumstances; it may lose its sense of purpose, its 'naturall forme* 
through its own internal conflicts, of which Donne's 'Pleasure or busi- 
ness' are secondary manifestations. 

The Philoctetes of Sophocles offers an almost perfect example of the 
individual conflict in this respect. Here Philoctetes is conscious of his 
supreme power through his bow, itself an ancient and mysterious 
symbol. 1 He suffers from a double hamartia, part physical and part 
spiritual: the offensive festering wound, and his grievance at his com- 
rades' desertion. (This last is purged by Herakles, who tells him to go 
and fight at Troy.) It is true that the interest centres mainly in the 
character of his Neoptolemus, and his vacillation, who finally over- 
comes the deceitful intrigue of Odysseus, and the supreme temptation 
to be false to his loyalty. The play also shows the complex response to 
suffering, reiterated throughout by the Chorus and Philoctetes' own 
complaints; intense physical pain that has no release in death, and in 
which the stench of the putrefying wound forces upon Philoctetes his 
terrible isolation on Lemnos. The ending is factitious, for Troy must 
fall, and therefore Herakles intervenes; but the archetype of the aged 
1 Compare also Ishmael, the outcast, who 'dwelt in the wilderness*. 


hero with his power and his weakness, 1 and the play's justification of 
loyalty in human relationships, remain significant. 

The hero's characteristic quality is power, the ability to do for others 
what they would, but could not; or to know what others cannot know, 
to answer the riddles for them. In this situation he is liable, as man, to 
a number of catastrophic flaws. 

He may, in putting forth what is essentially a spiritual effort, become 
the victim of his bodily weakness or desire; such as lust, sleeplessness, 
and various psychotic states. 

He may be tempted either to an excess of power beyond his capacity, 
or he may ascribe his actions to his own capabilities the act of hubris. 

He may, while relying on some mystique of personali ty, or magical 
formula, share or communicate that knowledge so that it is no longer 
private, and hence no longer potent. 

He may fail to continue to communicate his characteristic 'vision' to 
those whom he leads, and on whom his loyalty depends; and hence his 
position declines. 

At this stage it is of interest to consider a description of the genesis of 
the hero in terms as stated by a psychologist: 

The initial stage of personal infantilism presents the picture of an 
'abandoned* or 'misunderstood* and unjustly treated child with overweening 
pretensions. The epiphany of the hero (the second identification) shows itself 
in a corresponding'inflation: the colossal pretension grows into a conviction 
that one is something extraordinary, or else the impossibility of the pre- 
tension ever being fulfilled only proves one's own inferiority, which is 
favourable to the role of the heroic sufferer (a negative inflation). In spite of 
their contrariety, both forms are identical, because unconscious compensatory 
inferiority tallies with conscious megalomania, and unconscious megalo- 
mania with conscious inferiority (you never get one without the other). 
Once the reef of the second identification has been successfully circum- 
navigated, conscious processes can be cleanly separated from the unconscious, 
and the latter observed objectively. This leads to the possibility of an accom- 
modation with the unconscious, and thus to a possible synthesis of the 
conscious and unconscious elements of knowledge and action. This in turn 
leads to a shifting of the centre of personality from the ego to the self. 2 

1 We may refer to this archetypal situation in modern dress: the dream of a young man 
who knew himself to be shut up in a stockade or zarcba, armed with a rifle and ammuni- 
tion, and surrounded by savages armed with spears and shields. He knew he could keep 
them at a distance with his magical weapon, but that ultimately he would be over- 
whelmed by sheer numbers. The reference was to the young man's engagement, of which 
his parents, and society in general, disapproved: the rifle, his superior intelligence as a 
defence against the masses. 

Jung and Kere*nyi, op. cit. t pp. 137-8. 


Now it would be idle to speculate on the childhood of the tragic 
hero, though the Byronic semi-autobiographical character fits accur- 
ately with this diagnostic interpretation. But it is clear that the tradi- 
tional tragic hero is on every count liable to precisely this kind of 
psychological inflation, and the oscillation of which I have spoken. It 
is merely another statement of the corrupting influence of power; its 
megalomaniac aspects are perhaps both cause and effect, inseparably 
intertwined in recent history. Further, the tragic hero, caught in the 
net of circumstances, is never given an opportunity of reaching an 
accommodation with the subconscious; the familiar and normal process 
of the non-heroic type. 

If we consider again the image of the sphere it will be apparent that 
only a limited number of the negative elements are brought into play 
in the tragic situation. It is probably fair to say, with Aristotle, that the 
good qualities must outweigh any single flaw. We have already dealt 
with the question of 'height' or 'eminence', but the hero must at all 
events have a large 'reserve* of positive qualities, since the dramatist 
must at some stage release or re-establish a preponderant amount of 
sympathy for him. The stage at which such sympathy is evoked will 
vary with each play. For King Lear it starts with the Heath Scene, and 
reaches its peak in his speech to Cordelia as they both depart to prison. 
For Macbeth we begin with full sympathy, lose it, regain it through the 
full poetry of his speech at his wife's death, and then either lose it or 
substitute for it a half-reluctant admiration at the sheer ferocity, courage 
and power to accept life on an active and superficial plane. Othello 
loses it when he grows hysterical, and recaptures it for a moment in 
the histrionics of his dying speech. 1 Both Antony and Cleopatra drown 
all other emotions in the death-splendour; as does Coriolanus, for 
whom our feelings are probably more divided than they would have 
been for a Jacobean audience. 


All characters show this oscillation between weakness and strength, 
though it differs both in kind and in degree. The clearest example is 
Othello. Whatever we take to be his hatnartia, it is clear that to a con- 
temporary audience he was, in essence, a character study of The Jealous 
Man, as well as of a southern race with peculiar emotional characteris- 
tics. As such he is doubtful of his own power to dominate and hold 

1 The effects of such histrionics probably differ a good deal on, say, a Jacobean audience, 
and a modern one, and have repelled certain modern critics. 


a woman of a foreign race, in a city notorious for its loose morals, in 
surroundings which, if not actually bewildering, are at least to be 
regarded with the suspicion proper to a noble African. As the jealous 
man, he is a little doubtful even as to his wooing; in which he has to 
be assisted by Cassio. He tells of it at length to refute the charge of 
witchcraft; and it is worth while noting that his courtship follows Sir 
Philip Sidney's prescription: 

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show, 
That She, dear She! might take some pleasure of my pain; 
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know, 
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain. 1 

At the same time, Othello's account of his miraculous travels, hardships, 
adventures, suggests a self-created and cherished myth; a most powerful 
instrument in producing a temporary stabilization, but in the long run 
dangerous to mental equilibrium because it will fail to respond to cir- 
cumstances which lie outside those included in such a myth. Through- 
out the play he is perpetually clutching at any means of reassurance, any 
pretext which will hold him from the hysterica passio to which he 
eventually succumbs. All his soldiership, his past deeds, his service to 
the State, hang in the one balance, so that, consciously, he can rehearse 
his role of the violent yet self-governed man, who makes a deliberate 
use of his own breaking-point as an authoritative threat: 

Now, by heaven, 

My blood begins my safer guides to rule, 
And passion, having my best judgement colhed, 
Assays to lead the way. If I once stir, 
Or do but lift this arm, the best of you 
Shall sink in my rebuke. 2 

At the end, he seeks reassurance in three ways: by recalling his past 
glory, which is unassailable; by setting out that past in magnificent 
rhetoric, which is, to all heroic types, the method of reassurance in the 
present; and finally by his dramatic suicide. His last few hues exemplify 
all three: 

And say, besides, that in Aleppo once, 
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk 
Beat a Venetian and traduc'd the state, 
I took by the throat the circumcised dog, 
And smote him, thus. 3 

1 Astrophel and Stella, i. * n. ui. 202. * v. u. 351. 



Perhaps the memory of that episode is wrenched, histrionically, into 
the dying speech; but it is just such a moment as is needed to give the 
man of action a memory of a time when his own self-reliance has 
triumphed, and to afford a dramatic setting for the final stab, the 
compulsive suicide which is at onpe a re-assurance and an escape. 

It is not necessary that the flaw should be simple, or wholly in the 
consciousness of the hero. It would be in keeping with what the Eliza- 
bethans would have called decorum, and what we should call psycho- 
logical truth, if there should be, together with certain symptoms of 
overt insecurity, a residuum of the hamartia which is inexplicable to 
conscious thought. 1 Perhaps something of this kind lies at the base of 
all speculation as to Hamlet's character. He may well be the victim of 
a so-called Oedipus complex, as set forth in the Freud-Bcaumont-Jones 
theories; and this still remains the most satisfactory account of the 
reason for the^sexual outbursts. But whether this is the sole inhibitory 
cause may be doubted^ On the evidence of the soliloquies there is the 
typical oscillation between the two poles, of action and of self-con- 
tempt for refusing the challenge to action. The quotations are too well 
known to bear repetition. But many critics have noticed the assump- 
tion of a power in action, a self-reassurance through rhetoric, usually 
(as such a mood demands) 2 of the 'exsufflicate' type: 

What is he whose grief 

Bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow 
Conjures the wandering stars and makes them stand 
Like wonder-wounded hearers? this is I, 
Hamlet the Dane. 8 

And commentators have long been aware of the change in Hamlet's 
tone and bearing after the active episode of the pirate ship, the calm 
violence of the murder of Polonius; which allow the play to run rapidly 
down the smooth slope of the Fifth Act. Hamlet's own hamartia, I sug- 
gest, remains insoluble in its total content; we can if we wish cancel the 
whole argument by withdrawing ourselves outside the play, 4 but this 

1 In other terminology we may think of Jung's account of the complexes. 'They are 
"vulnerable points" which we do not like to remember and still less to be reminded of by 
others, but which frequently come back to mind unbidden and in the most unwelcome 
fashion. They always contain memories, wishes, fears, duties, needs or views, with which 
we have never really come to terms.' Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 91. 

1 Consider the Marlovian rhetoric in this respect. * v. i. 262. 

4 As in *QY solution: if Hamlet had not delayed there would have been no play. 


procedure, though legitimate, leaves the tragic pattern incomplete. 
What is clear is that Hamlet's is a character of indecision in one par- 
ticular direction; that the factors producing the indecision are com- 
plex, but not wholly accidental in terms of birth, environment, love, 
incest, or what you will; but sufficiently basic in human nature to 
afford a strong 'recognitiona!' response to successive generations of 
audience and scholars, and thereby to fulfil one of the prime conditions 
of tragedy. 

Coriolanus affords perhaps the simplest instance of both the joint-in- 
the-armour and the oscillation between the poles of inferiority and 
superiority; an oscillation which is illustrated graphically in action as 
well as in words. At the root of his characterization lies an elementary 
psychological problem which is symbolized in the whole story. We 
may put it thus; the individual who is yet immature in some particular 
respect will tend to rely on the family (usually the wife or mother), or 
tribe or nation, while at the same time rebelling against the limitations 
which such an association places on the individual. In other words, the 
Roman system of suffrage for the Consulship is precisely calculated to 
bring out the worst in Coriolanus, who has neither the sense of humour 
nor the 'patience', in the Shakespearian sense, to rationalize the situation; 
to perceive, as Mark Antony does, the rules for the rhetorical handling 
of democracy. 1 Every lesson learnt in the discipline of war, every move 
of the politicians, confirms him in his immature desire for the quick 
results of actions. lago knew the other side: 

How poor are they that have not patience ! 

What wound did ever heal but by degrees? 

Thou know'st we work by wit and not by witchcraft, 

And wit depends on dilatory time. 2 

Each time he attempts to compromise he withdraws to nurse his 
injured pride; perpetually he seeks reassurance in hyperbole; in rhetoric 
as 'exsufflicate' as that of Hamlet or Othello: 

Let them pull all about mine ears; present me 
Death on the wheel, or at wild horses' heels; 
Or pile ten hills on the Tarpeian rock, 

1 The end of every war tends to bring great soldiers into quasi-political roles: with 
interesting results. 
1 Or/i., n. iu. 367. 


That the precipitation might down sttetch 
Below the beam of sight; yet will I still 
Be thus to them. 1 

After he has joined the Volscians (and in his defection the scene among 
the serving men is exquisitely timed to parody, as it were, the preceding 
scenes in Rome), Aufidius comes most nearly to a complete analysis of 
his character. The speech is such a memorable epitome of the tragic 
hero that it deserves some detailed comment: 

First he was 

A noble servant to them; but he could not 
Carry his honours even; whether 'twas pride, 
Which out of daily fortune ever taints 
The happy man; whether defect of judgement, 
To fail in the disposing of those chances 
Which he was lord of; or whether nature 
Not to be other than one thing, not moving 
From the casque to the cushion, but commanding peace 
Even with the same austerity and garb 
As he controlTd the war; but one of these, 
As he hath spices of them all, not all, 
For I dare so far free him, made him fear'd, 
So hated, and so bamsh'd: but he has a merit, 
To choke it in the utterance. 2 

Aufidius, it seems, is conscious of a highly complex hamartia, and is not 
prepared to commit himself as to which aspects he should stress. 
Coriolanus could not retain his balance under conditions of success in 
war; it ma^have been pride, which to an Elizabethan was familiar as 
a Deadly Sin. He may have been stupid, or unlucky, in not turning 
favourable circumstances to account ('There is a tide in the affairs of 
men'); or he may have been in error in thinking he could give orders, 
impose his will, on a democracy. Yet there is the invariable re-balancing 
of the indictment 

but he has a merit 
To choke it in the utterance. 

which recalls the more famous 

a rarer spirit never 

Did steer humanity; but you, gods, will give us 
Some faults to make us men. 3 

1 ra. 11. i. rv. vii. 35. 8 A. & C., v. i. 31. 



Romeo and Juliet exemplifies the incomplete sphere: partly because 
of Romeo's own immaturity, partly because of the excessive domina- 
tion of the stars, partly because the essential responsibility for the con- 
flict is transferred to the rival houses of Montagu and Capulet. The 
flaw in Romeo is a malady rather than a defect of character; it is 
merely one aspect of the love-energy which the mechanism of the plot 
combines alternately to forward and to frustrate. The weaknesses are 
those of adolescence: but they are completely overshadowed by his 
sickness and by the pace of events. Indeed, it may be doubted whether 
any of the great tragic love stories readily admits this immediate 
schizophrenia, unless the hero is confronted, as in Racine and Corneille, 
with delicately opposed forces in which love is balanced by an artifi- 
cially buttressed honour or patriotism. An equally simple play, Mar- 
lowe's Dr Faustus, shows a hamartia so obvious, so heavily underlined 
in his soliloquies and in the externalized symbolism of the Good and 
Bad Angels, as to afford no great interest in the psychological subtleties 
of character. 

The tragic hero in religious drama shows something of the same 
oscillation within the sphere of personality. The movement can be seen 
clearly in Job's violent and penitential abasement, his unrestrained des- 
pair when confronted with his tragic chorus; the solution in the final 
act of faith 'Which has for its epitome the words 

Shall mortal man be more just than his Maker? 

Of the Christian tragedy it is less easy to write. 

It is clear that there is the same consciousness of power, the quiet 
certainty of a mission; there is, so far as can be judged, the recognition 
of weakness proper to His guise of Man, the prayer that the Cup might 
pass, the desperate cry from the Cross. Later dramatists have sought to 
enlarge the dramatic scope by introducing a more balanced statement 
of the conflicting claims against Christ. This will serve as an example: 

Christ (to Judas) You were beside me every day, and saw 

The dead raised up and blind men given their sight, 
And all that I have said and taught you have known, 
Yet doubt that I am God. 


Judas I have not doubted; 

I knew it from the first moment that I saw you; 

I had no need of miracles to prove it. 
Christ And yet you have betrayed me. 

Judas I have betrayed you 

Because you seemed all-powerful. 
Christ My Father 

Even now, if I were but to whisper it, 

Would break the world in His miraculous fury 

To set me free. 
Judas And is there not one man 

In the wide world that is not in your power? 
Christ My Father put all men into my hands. 

Judas That was the very thought that drove me wild. 

I could not bear to think you had but to whistle 

And I must do; but after that I thought, 

'Whatever man betrays Him will be free'; 

And life grew bearable again. And now 

Is there a secret left I do not know, 

Knowing that if a man betrays a God 

He is the stronger of the two? l 

Here we have in a very simple form, though coloured by Yeats's 
peculiar conceptions of theology, a statement of the basic conflict. 


Modern tragedy, with its questioning of traditional values and its 
lack of a philosophical framework within which human personality 
may be profitably considered, exemplifies an interest in the internal 
stresses of the sphere and a Swift-like readiness to puncture the bubble 
or blister of the compensation. Sometimes in its anxiety to explore the 
interior it loses sight of the traditional resources and limitations of the 
theatre for which it is designed; sometimes, as in the ritual masks and 
music of the N5h drama, it appears to retreat completely from char- 
acter analysis in search of a totally different effect. The Ibsen hero shows 
the oscillation between weakness and strength, decision and indeci- 
sion: in both contrasting with the ruthlessness and single-mindedness 
of the women characters; and these, indeed, show (as I shall suggest in 
a later chapter) the typical oscillation between femininity and steadfast- 
ness. Against them the men appear swollen with idealism, or with a 
curious sacrificial obsession. In Shaw the manipulations of the dramatist 

1 W. B. Yeats, Calvary. 


are far more conscious, the iconoclasm more sharply-edged, conceived 
in the brain; more apparent, perhaps, in a near-tragedy such as Candida 
than in Stjoan or The Doctor's Dilemma. Against both we can set the 
rigid, carefully tinctured figures of the French Classical drama, whose 
predetermined poles of conflict remain rigid throughout each play, and 
force our interests on to other aspects. 


Perhaps hubris itself, the sin of pride, is only one aspect of this com- 
pensation for the hamartia\ for, being grafted on to human personality, 
or rather an excrescence upon it, it is not only a source of insolence, of 
failure in decorum and ceremonial, a challenge to the gods, but a 
peculiarly inviting target for the thunderbolt or the 'little pin' of human 
injustice or malice. The commonest form of hubris is the boast, the 
challenge, that cannot be made good; the vanity that demands praise 
because it Is self-distrustful; the very extravagance of language, its oaths 
and hyperbole, the hysterica passio of control that breaks down from 
insecurity all these are symptomatic of its emptiness. 

In a wider context, hubris can be seen as the term which connects 
tragedy most readily with Christian ethics. To commit that sin it is not 
essential that we should challenge the gods, or 'set black streamers in 
the firmament', or blaspheme them, or commit some error of ritual, or 
omit some sacrifice. Its opposing term is humility: in turn to be defined 
as that sense of man's place in his environment which, arising out of all 
the judgement and knowledge that his perceptions allow him to 
master, results in an ultimate consciousness of his own powers and his 
resolution not to transgress them. The commonest result of transgres- 
sion is obsessional neurosis, the product of hubris, usually attaching to 
the desire for power, reputation or affection l beyond the proper limits 
of the human situation. We are, perhaps, over-prone to consider hubris 
as a gesture, the outward action of insolence; and fail to notice the 
inevitable distortions of judgements when translated into action (for 
action is necessary to heal the wounded psyche) which lie at the heart of 
the transgressor, and which shade so readily into madness. 

When hubris is punished the victor-victim usually, but not always, 
attains sonic consciousness of the nature of his sin. Both he and the 
spectators are aware of his atonement, but any overt repentance which 

1 The desire to be 'loved', in the most general terms, is perhaps more powerful than is 
usually appafenT.^Seftmg" aside the King Lear archetype (and its social implications), this 
desire has strange ramifications and is closely linked to violence when it is frustrated. The 
conduct of occupation troops during war is worthy of study from this angle. 


appears proper to the unmixed villain only will alienate our sym- 
pathy. Why this should be so is not easy to explain. In some degree 
repentance is an act of self-accusation; and of all such states of mind it 
is thcTbne in which the individual finds it most difficult to be utterly 
certain of his own sincerity. Any hesitation here will break the hero's 
claim upon us. 


In our consideration of the hatnartia and its complexities we must, I 
believe, resist the temptation to seek any inclusive formula. There are 
many reasons. In the foreshortening, the funnclling-down as it were of 
the material into the dramatic form, an element of the irrational will 
intrude. That in turn will be offset by the richer and more complex 
perceptions of character made possible by the 'imitation' of the hero 
in the theatre; the number of contacts with his fellow-protagonists, and 
the swiftness with which they alternate; the tone and tensions of the 
language; the 'minute particulars' of the elements of the production 
that set the multiple actions in shadow or relief. But we must beware 
of violating the utmost mystery of personality. A philosopher has put 
the matter concisely for our purpose: 

You can study a man scientifically to just the extent that you can grasp and 
systematize his thing like characteristics, which form an ontological sub- 
structure of every one of us; but the man in his wholeness, which is to say in 
his distinctively human character, eludes every network of rational concepts 
that is thrown out to cover him. 1 

And again, 

A person's total relation to his world is neither simple nor mono-logical. 
Partly he stands over against his world, confronted and confronting; partly he 
finds himself immersed in it, continuous with it, more or less identified 
with it. 2 

And if we remember that such complexities are inherent in real life, 
we shall be content to allow, in any criticism (or in a production of the 
play so good that it is in itself a criticism) the right of the great character 
to emerge in successive ages in its Protean forms. 

1 Philip Wheelwright, The Sewanee Review, Winter, 1953, p. 57. 
* Ibid. t p. 60. 


'The Woman's Part' 

Sure I did heare a woman shriek* list, ha! 
The Duchess of Malfi l 

For there's no motion 
That tends to vice in man but I affirm 
It is the woman's part . . . 

Cymbehne a 

Any man has to, needs to, wants to 
Once in a lifetime, do a girl in. 

Sweeney Agon isles 


IN the Huntington Art Gallery at Pasadena there is the famous picture 
of Mrs Siddons as The Tragic Muse. The painting suggests strength 
and inexorable will, coupled with a romantic melancholy; behind her, 
on cither side, mysterious figures display the poison and the knife. 
We may suspect that this conception of tragic womanhood has a long 
ancestry: Clytemnestra, Medea, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Athalie. 
These are images of superhuman power achieved through a concen- 
trated passion, or of regal fortitude, like Iphigcneia; in self-sacrifice or 
in passive suffering. They go forward, through history, to Racine, 
Shelley, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Shaw; Hcdda Gabler, Ellicfa of 
The Lady from the Sea, and St Joan are perhaps the most memorablej 
Behind or beside them stand a host of lesser women, whose suffering i^ 
usually passive in character: their role partly one of contrast, partly to 
arouse a series of masculine emotions: 

Das Unbcschreiblichc, 
Hicr ists gctan: 
Das Ewig-Wcibhche 
Zieht uns hinan. 3 

If we set aside the Active Heroine and the Saint, tragic woman- 
hood seems in general to be approached and appraised in a 

1 n. lii. 2 n. v. 20. a Faust. 



predominantly elegiac mood. Tennyson's Dream of Fair Women sets 
the tone: 

Those far-renowned brides of ancient song 
Peopled the hollow dark, like burning stars, 
And I heard sounds of insult, shame, and wrong 
And trumpets blown for wars. 

For woman in tragedy may be either the heart's victim or its torturer; 
her sufferings, while they are simpler than those of man, find expression 
more easily on the stage. We may attempt to classify some of the com- 
ponents of the emotional responses found in tragedy. 

1. A conscious or unconscious alignment with the Mother-Virgin 
group of images, with the ancillary suggestions of purity, com- 
fort, safety, pardon. 

2. A yielding on the part of man to the paradox of domination 
under such conditions; reconciled by the sexual appeal, which 
may sometimes assume a mask of weakness to attain its ends. 

3. A desire perhaps largely unconscious for sexual revenge by the 
male, finding its expression in abuse and cruelty; which may well 
be rationalized on some pretext or other. 

4. A pity for the spiritual and material fate of woman because of her 
biological conditions. This pity is the purer because it has an 
aspect of mystery, being incapable of being realized or stated by 
the masculine mind, and as such, jealously guarded by feminine 
ritual. This element of mystery may on occasion be an important 
dramatic resource. 

5. An aspect of woman in her supra-natural powers witchcraft, 
prophecy, the power of the curse; or even of some more than 
ordinary sensibility which causes man to credit her with mys- 
terious powers. 1 

6. The increasing interest, throughout dramatic history, in the 
psychology of woman; in proportion to her material and spiritual 
emancipation. And this appears to have a correlation in the 
attempt to thrust her back, as it were, into her primordial func- 
tions, and falling back on irony or cynicism when she denies 

1 e.g. her connection with moon-imagery. The virgin-prophetess is a constant in 



There are, perhaps, two main ways in which women are brought to 
suffer. First, the sheer physical conditions of their being; secondly, the 
biological fact that, while they desire domination by men, this 
domination may lead to slavery. In this fact lies the seed of eternal 
conflict. Their characteristic virtue is adaptability, which is the price of 
their survival in marriage; and the singleness of purpose in their lives 
removes all hope of sublimation or transference when the death of the 
lover, or his desertion, follows. Euripides' plea in the mouth of Medea 
stands as the most eloquent of all time: 

Of all creatures that have life and reason we women are the most unhappy. 
For, first, by payment of much wealth we must needs purchase a husband, a 
master of our persons . . . And herein lies a fearful peril: will he be base or 
good? For the wife is disgraced by divorce, yet to refuse marriage is im- 
possible. Then, when a woman has come to live with a strange character and 
strange ways of life, she must needs have second-sight (for her past experience 
tells her nothing) if she is to know how to deal with her husband. If, then, we 
solve this riddle, and the spouse who dwells with us proves not a brutal yoke- 
fellow, our life is to be envied; otherwise, death were best. When a man is 
wearied of his home, he walks abroad and relieves his spirit of its distaste in 
the society of some friend or companion; but we are forced to look to one 
person only. And they say of us that we pass within the house a life un- 
threatened by any peril, whereas they engage in the toil of war. Fools! for I 
had rather go into the line of spears three times than once to bear a child. 1 

For Medea, in her outburst against masculine complacency, is the 
first of a long line of protestant heroines; in whom the rapid reversal 
of the 'womanly' emotions may lead to a virulent bitterness of purpose, 
the conversion of milk or manna into gall. To these (we think of 
Clytemnestra, Antigone, Lady Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, St Joan) the 
dramatist's attitude is always complicated in terms of the social back- 
ground; the accusations of 'unwomanliness' dealt with in the Shavian 
Prefaces and in Shaw's critiques of Ibsen may be contrasted with the 
denial of 'nature' in Lady Macbeth, or (initially) in Cordelia. 2 Perhaps 
it is only in the Protean change of Shakespeare's Cleopatra that the 
balance is held with emotional exactness, the triple-turned whore set 
against the lass unparalleled, the mistress "transformed to the wife, the 
harlot to a queen. St Joan might in theory have presented Shaw with 

1 Quoted (in part) from Gilbert Norwood, Euripides and Shaw, p. 36. 
1 This 'nature' aspect, filial affection and duty is the more strongly emphasized by the 
male's perception of his daughter as a subsitute for, or reincarnation of, the wife. 


the perfection of Virgin mother, saint, leader and victor- victim; but 
she becomes the affectionately-manipulated puppet of Shaw's 
peculiarly outrageous historical sense. 

The sacrificial aspect, from Iphigeneia onwards, is of some interest; 
woman 'may become, one suspects, the scape-goat, her sacrifice 
rationalized in other terms. The blind fuTy oPthe biological urge, 
whether fulfilled or distorted into the channels of crime, intrigue, or 
ambition, is usually a source of admiration and embarrassment to men; 
from Macbeth's awed 

Bring forth men-children only; 

For thy undaunted metal should compose 

Nothing but males. 1 

to Nora Hclmer's cry in A Doll's House 

Helmer: But no man would sacrifice his honour for one he loves. 
Nora: It is a thing hundreds of thousands ot women have done. 

And this sacrificial function may be self-generated, born out of a half- 
understood desire for atonement or redemption; we think of Hedwig 
of The Wild Duck or the death of Celia in The Cocktail Party. 

The atonement or redemption may well be the outcome of woman's 
training, her ability to identify herself with men's interests, so that she 
may further them: 

Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, 
The Gods themselves throw incense. 


Greek drama is full of * women who wept'; the Trojan Women, 
Medea, Deianeira, Iphigeneia, Antigone, Cassandra, Polyxene, Hecuba. 
The scale of emotion runs from the sense of a terrible collective wrong, 
woman's fierce energy for evil and intrigue under the stimulus of 
unmixed emotion, the madness of Cassandra (in some sense the proto- 
type of Ophelia), their confrontation with the alternatives of chastity 
or death. Above all there is the sense, often ruthless common sense, of 
women as they assess and suffer the futility and childishness of war. 
They confront, in a unity of ageless passion, the actions that wreck the 
sacrifices of bearing and nurture for pride, or greed, power, or 
revenge: Hecuba's lament as she prepares the body of Astyanax for 
burial has the quality of Maurya's lament over her dead son in Riders 

1 1. vii. 72. 


to the Sea. In some strange manner the nakedness of the babe is as the 
nakedness of the dead, whether in comedy (as the Nurse in the 
Choephoroe) or in the lament for the eternal exclusion from fulfilment. 

There is the unswerving loyalty of Antigone, impatient with the 
technical details of ritual, utterly single-minded in her disobedience to 
Creon, insolent even in her stubbornness; but spreading outwards 
around her this progressive circle of sympathy that ultimately over- 
throws the King. Deianeira's slaying of her husband by the robe 
steeped in the centaur's blood has a double irony: that Hercules should 
be slain by a woman, that Deiancira, for all her modesty and sweetness 
of temperament, should, with the best intentions, be the agent of this 
typically feminine intrigue and deceit. 

Euripides' Electra suggests the Lady Macbeth type, and is perhaps 
an example of woman's inconstancy of mind: alternating between the 
arrogance over her triumph over the dead Acgisthus, and repentance 
for the evil as 'nature' returns, like a recoiling wave, to overwhelm her. 
Woman is 'the gleaming snare'; she is the victim of the irrational, or of 
the mysterious workings of Aphrodite or of Dionysus. The Nurse in 
the Hippolytus sums up the woman's part as seen by Euripides: 

And so, dear daughter, cease this black despair, 

Cease from this pride of heart -for pride it is 

To think you can be stronger tJian the Gods. 

Have the courage of your passion. For a God 

Hath willed it so. And since your soul is sick, 

Deal wisely with the sickness. 

There are, for such things, magic words and charms 

And we will find some sovereign remedy 

Ay, truly men would be hard put to it, 

Without us women to find out a way. 1 

It seems as if these types of tragic womanhood, burdened with the 
curses of Eve and of St Paul, pass through with little alteration into 
Elizabethan and Jacobean literature. In tragedy we think most readily 
of the great queens, and of the women victims; on the one hand there 
are the complex studies of dignified nobility, as in Vittona Corombona 
and the Duchess of Malfi, the victims of intrigue and torment, yet 
carrying in themselves their own eternal flaw: 

Cardinall Cun/d creature! 

Unequal nature, to place women's hearts 
So far upon the left side! 
1 Hippolytus, 472 (transl. F. L. Lucas). 


Ferdinand Foolish men, 

That ere will trust their honour in a bark, 
Made of so slight, weak bull-rush, as is woman 
Apt every minute to sink it! l 

That woman should, by her frailty, have power to damn a lineage by 
bastardy; that she should be able to be overpowered, with astounding 
rapidity (her desires tangled) by the rhetoric of the wooer, that she 
should be capable of the utmost ruthlessness in intrigue these char- 
acteristics persist. In old age she may be the witch-prophetess, with the 
terrible power of the curse. Yet she remains the emblem of transfigur- 
ing beauty, man's eternal image of the mother-lover-saint, the thing 
'ensky'd and sainted': but not, with three exceptions, in the tragic 
vision. Shakespeare's greatest and most vital women belong, save for 
Juliet and Cordelia and Cleopatra, to comedy: perhaps because in 
tragedy they are never wholly free from the levity of Eve or the 
weakness of Lilith. Volumnia and Virgilia ofCoriolanus are deliberately 
at two poles. Virgilia as 'my gracious silence', Volumnia the warrior- 
woman, the embodiment of Rome's undaunted mettle, yet with a 
certain shrewd unscrupulousness in politics that shows her feminine 
realism. The twisted tragedy of Troilus and Cressida contains a carica- 
ture of the faithless woman who can yet momentarily rise to heights 
of supreme tenderness: 

Prince Troilus, I have loved you night and day 
For many weary months. 2 

and whose famous betrayal scene still bears quotation for the woman's 

Troilus, farewell! one eye yet looks on thee, 
But with my heart the other eye doth see. 
Ah! poor our sex; this fault in us I find, 
The error of our eye directs our mind. 
What error leads must err. O! then conclude 
Minds sway'd by eyes are full of turpitude. 


Thersites A proof of strength she could not publish more, 
Unless she said, 'My mind is now turn'd whore.' 

Ulysses All's done, my lord. 

Troilus It is. 8 

1 Duchess ofMalfi, n. v. * m. ii. 114. ' v. ii. 104. 


Against this we may set the vision of D. H. Lawrence, in a poem which 
is itself a microcosm of tragic antinomies: 

I had dreamed of love, oh love, I had dreamed of love, 
And the veil of the temple rent at the kiss on kiss, 
And God revealed through the sweat and the heat of love, 
And God abroad and alight on us everywhere, 
Everywhere men and women alight with God, 
My body glad as the bell of a flower 
And hers a flowerbell swinging 
In a breeze of knowledge . . . 

But shall I touch hands with death in killing that other 

The enemy, my brother? 

Shall I offer to him my brotherly body to kill, 

Be bridegroom or best man, as the case turns out? 

The odds are even, and he will have it so. 

It may be I shall give the bride 

And the marriage shall be my brother's it may be so. 

I walk the earth intact hereafter wards; 

The crime full-expiate, the Erinnyes sunk 

Like blood into the earth again; we walk the earth 

Unchallenged, intact, unabridged, henceforth a host 

Cleansed and in concord from the bed of death. 

Many generations of critics have praised Racine's portraiture of 
women. His characters are displayed in certain essences or concentra- 
tions of emotion that (given the assumptions regarding his theatre) 
become, as it were, touchstones for all time. In Britannicus there is a 
fresh and vivid portrait of two young lovers, who become the pawns 
for intriguers; Princess Junie is a type of the fresh and innocent heroine. 
But in general the studies arc of older women, obsessed by something 
for which love, lust, passion, are all inadequate terms; a kind of 
obsessive absorption in the beloved, heightened to a terrifying extent 
by every kind of material frustration, till it ends in catastrophe. 
Phidre's thirst for Hippolyte, checked until it is beyond bearing by 
her own sense of shame, is only to be explained by the visitation of an 
angry goddess; nothing less will account for thefureur. So Hermione's 
love for Pyrrhus, Roxane for Bajazet. In Roxane, indeed, we have the 


compressed antinomies oflove and hatred, desire oflove and desire for 
the peculiar cruelty that is the correlative of rejected love. 1 Queen 
Esther (whether or not she is a portrait of Mme de Maintenon) has, 
like Agrippine of Britannicus, the dark and fierce qualities of the 
sorceress-woman, of whom Medea is perhaps the prototype. 

Racine observes these women, caught in the fatal net, from a dis- 
tance; but his genius is to allow them to speak for themselves. 'Love is 
a disease'; but instead of the whip or the madhouse we see the wave- 
moments of the fever, the irrational fancies, the swift rationalizations as 
despair succeeds hope. When the mercury is at its highest a word that 
leads to a murder seems to promise relief; phantasy and deed and dis- 
avowal succeed each other. Always behind them, their last and supreme 
weapon, is their rhetoric, their infinite capacity for twisting the wrong 
cause the right way, their rapid canalizations of reason into the irre- 
levant. But this rhetoric never fails their dignity. They remember 
that they are queens, that they are public figures, that the expression 
of pain, rage, venom, can be achieved with dignity in the drive 
and surge of the tirade, or in the short broken phrases, of the 

It is a conception of love which is, by its very concentration, alien 
to our experience to-day. The century before Racine had inherited the 
medieval tradition; in which, though love might indeed be fatal, its 
game was played under conventions that admitted various subterfuges 
for the satisfaction of desire. A century later the same relief was possible, 
with its preludes of sentimental eroticism that merit Dr Johnson's 
stricture, however strangely it sounds in the Preface to Shakespeare: 
'But love is only one of many passions; and as it has no great influence 
upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who 
caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he saw 
before him/ 

Few would agree with Johnson's generalization, or its application. 
Perhaps the truth, as regards neo-Classic drama, is that 'love' in what- 
ever degree or disguise, can serve best, among all possible human 
emotions, to focus human irrationality and fallibility in their most 
uncompromising forms; and therefore lends itself most readily to a 
simple dramatic system of tensions. 

1 Consider the Salome theme in general, for woman's cruelty, and the extension of it in 
the Singing Head theme. Allon's picture of Judith and Holofernes, m which the severed 
head is a self-portrait, and Judith and her mother portraits of his mistress and her mother, 
is a classic example. 


Judith with the head of Holofernes 

It is said that the younger woman is a portrait of Alton's mistress, the older 
her mother; and that the head is a self-portrait of the painter himself 



The plays of Brieux have not justified, in time, the startling claims 
that Shaw made on his behalf. 1 The handling of the woman's part 
seems to contain, historically, two components. The first is constant, 
the physical conditions of women, and their psychological conditions 
in so far as these depend on the physical. The second varies from age to 
age: and is a function of woman's place in each civilization : social, 
political and economic. If the drama that is concerned in the main 
with women fails to achieve a balance between what is constant and 
what is relevant only to a particular period of history, and if the 
dramatist does not succeed in universalizing the temporary and local 
element, the play may rapidly become 'dated*. This recessive tendency 
is still apparent in our revaluations of Ibsen, and will probably continue 
until the background of his characters has become part of history. It 
seems that time has already taken its revenge upon Brieux. 

The reasons are fairly clear. The French petit bourgeois setting of his 
characters is too familiar (in one sense) to be interesting, and too remote 
in another. The bargaining that accompanies the 'arranged marriage* 
is peculiar to the Latin countries, and the whole economic position of 
women and their employment has been changed by the two wars. 
Much of the consequence, and some of the horror, of venereal disease 
has been removed from our consciousness, and birth control provides 
alternatives to separation, or abstinence: whether of mistress or of wife. 
These facts have changed the material situation: much of the thesis 
of the first version of Maternity (for example) now sounds empty and 
false. It remains to consider what elements are constant, and how 
Brieux presents them. 

The Three Daughters of Monsieur Dupont will serve as an example. 
M. Dupont has a small printing business. His daughter Angele has been 
driven from home, because of an illegitimate child, some fifteen years 
previously. The second, Caroline, is weak, sentimental and intensely 
religious. The third, Julie, is married off, after much bargaining 
between the parents, to Antonin Mairaut; she does not love him, but 
she passionately wants a child. This intrigue is complicated by the 
existence of an uncle of the bridegroom's, who is believed to be both 
wealthy and influential. He turns out to be neither. An aunt dies in 
India, leaving legacies to Angele and Caroline: this forces Angele to 
revisit her home, and their father is anxious to obtain some of their 

1 'After the death of Ibsen, Brieux confronted Europe as the most important dramatist 
west of Russia.' (Preface to the Translated Plays, p. ix.) 


money for his printing business. But Caroline secretly gives half her 
legacy to one Courthezon, an elderly man with whom she has fallen 
in love. She discovers that he has been living with a mistress for the 
past twelve years, and has two illegitimate children. The houses of 
cards collapse. Julie proposes to leave her husband, and like Angele, 
to make her own living. But Angele disillusions her: 

You think women women like me are happy because you see us laugh. 
But to laugh is our trade. We are paid for that. And I sWear to you often we 
would ask nothing better than to sit and cry. And you talk of choosing] You 
poor child. Do you suppose we women choose? Oh, if you could but know 
how one comes to loathe the whole world, to be wicked, wickedl They despise 
us so. We have no friends, no pity, no justice. We are robbed, exploited. I 
tell you all this anyhow, just as it comes, but you understand, don't you? 
And once you start downhill you can't stop. That is our life, the life of women 
like me. That is the slough in which I have struggled ten years. No, no, 
Julie! No, little sister. I implore you don't do as I did. It is too horrible, too 
abject, too degrading. 
Julie. Poor Angele. 
Angele. You understand, don't you? 
Julie. Yes. 

Angele (rising). I must go. Goodbye. I dare not look either of you in the face 
again now that you know everything, now that I remember what I once 
was. I knew you could never have anything more to do with me. But I 
felt such a craving to be loved that I half fancied you, at least, Caroline 
I see I was wrong. Well, goodbye. I am going away. Forgive me, both of 
you, for what I have done. Goodbye. (She turns to the door.) 
Caroline. Angele. (A pause. Angele turns at the door.) I pity you with all my 
heart. (Another pause.) May I kiss you? (Angele throws herself into her arms.) 
Angele. Caroline! My land, good Caroline! 

The three sisters embrace with tears. 
Dupont, Antonin and Mairaut come in. 

Antonin (pushed forward by his father. To Julie]. My clear wife, I have conic to 

ask you to forgive me. 
Julie. It is 1 who ask you to forgive me. I was full of romantic ideas. I thought 

marriage something quite different from what it is. Now that I understand 

I will be reasonable. One must make allowances. I will make some to 


Dupont. That's right. 
Antonin. That's right. You can't imagine how glad I am that you understand 

me at last. It seems to me that from to-day our marriage really begins. 
Julie. Perhaps. 


Antonin. To celebrate our reconciliation I will give a grand dinner. I will 

invite the Puchclets, the Rambourgs, Lignol 

Julie (sadly and with meaning). Exactly Lignol. 1 

Dupont. Ah, my children, everything comes, right when once you make up 

your mind to be like the rest of the world. 
Julie (slowly). Yes: like the rest of the world. I dreamed of something better. 

But it seems it was impossible. 2 

I have quoted this at length to show something of Brieux's method: 
Julie's return to the marriage she loathes, to the man who refuses to 
give her a child, because of the pressure from her parents, and because 
there is no alternative in her world. The careful understatement of the 
prose must be allowed for in translation, the hints of sentimentality 
discounted because of what Brieux has built up previously in the play. 
It is the realist ending, which sacrifices a dramatic rhythm to the 
conventions of realism, the ending that Shaw thought would replace 
the traditional technique: 

Not only is the tradition of the catastrophe unsuitable to modern studies 
of life: the tradition of an ending, happy or the reverse, is equally unwork- 
able. The moment the dramatist gives up accidents and catastrophes, and 
takes 'slices of life* as his material, he finds himself committed to plays that 
have no endings. The curtain no longer comes down on a hero slain or 
married: it comes down when the audience has seen enough of the life presented 
to it to draw the moral, and must either leave the theatre or miss its last train. 3 

Now we may credit Brieux with a great deal more artistic integrity 
than Shaw suggests. There is sufficient interest in characterization 
throughout each play to keep the thesis in a reasonable balance: and 
the progressive recognitions, particularly in Damaged Goods, are com- 
petently managed. The tone is grey and neutral, like a Hardy poem. 
It is a type of tragedy that has no recourse to symbolism, 4 no exalta- 
tion, and which has no system of references in history, no sense of the 
continuity of woman's problem. It has not, as Shaw pointed out, 
Ibsen's gift of being 'to the last fascinating and full of a strange moving 
beauty'. 6 Only once or twice does a lyric sense break through Brieux's 
prose; and it is therefore of interest to consider another dramatist 
whose sole concern is with the woman's part, and whose method is 
primarily poetic. 

1 Lignol is Julie's would-be lover. * Act iv. 

* Preface to Brieux, p. xvii. 

4 Except, perhaps, the wall that protects the house given as part of Julie's dowry, and 
which gives way before a flood. 
6 Preface to Bneux, p. xv. 


Three plays of Garcia Lorca all that are as yet available in English 
translation 1 offer some unusual material for reflection on the 
woman's part, for all three are concerned with women's tragedy. 
Blood Wedding is a variant of the Young Lochinvar story: the Bride 
elopes on her wedding day with her former lover, the pair are tracked 
down, by a man-hunt of the neighbourhood, in the forest in which 
they have taken refuge; the two men, lover and bridegroom, kill each 
other with knives. At the end the lover's wife, the bride and the 
bridegroom's mother are left to lament among their neighbours; it is 
a scene curiously suggestive of the ending of Riders to the Sea. 

But no such summary of the plot is helpful. The play is built up 
skilfully with the utmost economy of speech. As in a Greek drama there 
is a previous history of crime: one of the Felix family has killed the 
bridegroom's mother, and it is Leonardo Felix, a younger brother, 
who carries off the Bride. The dialogue is mainly in single clipped 
sentences; much use is made of song throughout. It is difficult to judge 
of the imagery in translation, but the dominants are clear; the cradle 
song of Leonardo's wife concerning the black horse, for it is Leonardo's 
horse that carries the lovers away; the Bride lives in a Cave-house; 
the lovers take refuge in a forest, and are there hunted to their death. 
And while they are thus hunted three Woodcutters become a chorus 
to the tragedy they foresee: their dialogue shifts into a scene with the 
Moon and a Beggar Woman, a figure completely covered by a green 
cloth who does not appear in the cast. A fragment of the verse will 
give some idea of Lorca's method: 

Beggar Woman. The moon's going away, just when they're near. 
They won't get past here. The river's whisper 
and the whispering tree trunks will muffle 
the torn flight of their shrieks. 
It has to be here, and soon. I'm worn out. 
The coffins are ready, and white sheets 
wait on the floor of the bedroom 
for heavy bodies with torn throats. 2 
Let not one bird awake, let the breeze, 
gathering their moans in her skirt, 
fly with them over black tree tops 

1 Three Tragedies of Federica Garcia Lorca, transl. James Graham-Lujari and R. L. 
O'Conncll. New Directions, 1947. 

1 The repetition of torn suggests the hound-deer aspect of the man-hunt. 


or bury them in soft mud. 

Oh, that moon! That moon! 
(The Moon appears. The intense blue light returns.) 

Moon. They're coming. One band through the ravine and the 

other along the river. I'm going to light up the boulders. 
What do you need? 
Beggar Woman. Nothing. 

Moon. The wind blows hard now, with a double edge. 1 

Beggar Woman. Light up the waistcoat and open the buttons; the knives 

will know the path after that. 

Moon. But let them be a long time a-dying. So the blood 

will slide its delicate hissing between my fingers. 
Look how my ashen valleys already are waking 
in longing for this fountain of shuddering gushes! a 

At the end the emotions are exquisitely and ironically balanced. 
Here is the dialogue as the bodies are brought in, borne shoulder-high: 

Mother. It's the same thing 

Always the cross, the cross. 
Woman. Sweet nails, 

cross adored, 

sweet name 

of Christ our Lord. 

Bride. May the cross protect both the quick and the dead. 

Mother. Neighbours: with a knife 

with a little knife, 

on their appointed day, between two and three, 

these two men killed each other for love. 

With a knife, 

with a tiny knife 

that barely fits the hand, 

But that slides in clean 

through the astonished flesh 

and stops at the place 

where trembles, enmeshed, 

the dark root of a scream. 
Bride. And this is a knife, 

a tiny knife 

that barely fits the hand; 

1 iii. i. The knife-motif has been apparent from the opening scene, in which the 
Bridegroom's mother laments her murdered men. 
* in. i. 


fish without scales, without river, 
so that on that appointed day, between two and three, 
with this knife, 
two men are left stiff, 
with their lips turning yellow. 
Mother. And it barely fits the hand 

But it slides in clean 
through the astonished flesh 
and stops there, at the place 
where trembles, enmeshed 
the dark root of a scream. 1 

Even in translation, the restraint, the curious liturgical repetitions, 
convey the frozen quality of woman's grief; and make this one of 
the most remarkable endings in modern tragedy. 

Lorca's play The House o/Bernarda Alba is in his own words 'a drama 
about women in a village of Spain'. Furthermore 'these Three Acts are 
intended as a photographic document'. (They are, very definitely, not.) 
The characters are the five daughters of Bernarda, whose ages run from 
thirty-nine to twenty; Bernarda herself ('the domineering old tyrant' 
as her maid calls her); Bernarda's old mother, aged eighty, who is 
insane, and is kept locked up but who escapes at intervals to punctuate 
the action; two women friends of the family; and a chorus, two 
hundred strong, of women in mourning. 

The plot is simple, but impossible to summarize briefly. Bernarda's 
husband has just died. The eldest daughter, Augustias, is half-engaged 
to one Pepe el Romano, a man of twenty-five. Even during the 
funeral service the women are watching the men. At night Pepe comes 
to the windows of the house for his courting; part of the time he gives 
to Augustias, but actually is in love with the youngest sister, Adela. 
But Augustias has inherited the larger portion of her father's money. 
The curtain of the first Act falls on the appearance of the mad grand- 
mother who has dressed herself and run away from the servant: 

Maria Josef a. I ran away because I want to marry I want to get married to a 
beautiful manly man from the shore of the sea. Because here the men run 
from women. 

Bernarda. Hush, hush, Mother! 

Maria Josefa. No, no I won't hush. I don't want to see these single women, 
longing for marriage, turning their hearts to dust; and I want to go to my 
home town. Bernarda, I want a man to get married to and be happy with! 

Bernarda. Lock her up ! 2 

1 iii. ii. 8 Act i. 


The plot develops: Poncia, the 'friend of the family', tells the girls how 
she managed her husband: 

Then he acted very decently. Instead of getting some other idea, he went 
to raising birds, until he died. You aren't married but its good for you to 
know, anyway, that two weeks after the wedding a man gives up the bed 
for the table, then the table for the tavern, and the woman who doesn't 
like it can just rot, weeping in a corner. 

Amelia. You liked it. 
Poncia. I learned how to handle him! 
Martina. Is it true you sometimes hit him? 
Poncia. Yes, and once I almost poked out one of his eyes! 
Magdalena. All women ought to be like that! 

Poncia. I'm one of your mother's school. One time I don't know what he 
said to me, and then I lolled all his birds with the pestle! 

(They laugh.) 
Magdalena. Adela, child, don't miss this! * 

Martirio steals Augustias* portrait of her betrothed, Pedro; she too 
is in love with him. But it is Adcla who is finally seduced by Pedro; 
Bernarda drives him from the house. Adela hangs herself. The scene of 
the catastrophe is worth quoting. The knocking of a hammer is heard. 
La Poncia goes to investigate. 

Don't go in! 
Bernarda. No, not I! Pepe, you're running now, alive, in the darkness, under 

the trees, but another day you'll fall. Cut her down! My daughter died a 

virgin. Take her to another room and dress her as though she were a 

virgin. No one will say anything about this! She died a virgin. Tell them 

so at dawn, the bells will ring twice. 
Martirio. A thousand times happy she, who had him. 
Bernarda. And I want no weeping. Death must be looked at face to face. 


(To one daughter.) 

Be still, I said! 

(To another daughter.) 

Tears when you're alone ! We'll drown ourselves in a sea of mourning. 

She, the youngest daughter of Bernarda Alba, died a virgin. Did you 

hear me? Silence, silence, I said. Silence! 2 

And the full terror of the scene is brought out as we remember an 
earlier knocking on the wall: 

(A heavy blow is heard against the walls.) 
. . . What's that? 

1 Act n. 2 Act m. 


Bernarda. The stallion. He's locked in the stall and he kicks against the wall of 

the house. 


Tether him and take him out in the yard! 

(In a lower voice.) 

He must be too hot. 

Prudencia. Are you going to put the new mares to him? 
Bernarda. At daybreak. 

Prudencia. You've known how to increase your stock. 
Bernarda. By dint of money and struggling. 1 

The bare laconic dialogue of the play, the intensity of hatred generated 
among the women, the sparse but effective symbolism, make the play 
worth consideration. The old devices are used, but with a freshness that 
suggests that continuous power of vitality is archetypal; the village 
harlot, the knocking outside, the appearance of the mad grandmother 
with her devastating comments on the theme, the lip-service and 
religious hypocrisy; all these are used as a poet uses them. 

So the woman's part, of which the greatest will always be the love 
of man or of children, or even of both, must always bulk large among 
the material of tragedy. As we confront it, the cry we hear most often 
is that of negation or despair; sometimes the attribution of responsi- 
bility to the crossing stars, sometimes to the institution of marriage, 
occasionally to the responsibility of the individual. We remember 
Hippolytus' cry in Euripides' play: 

O God, why hast Thou made this gleaming snare, 
Woman, to dog us on the happy earth? 

and Phaidra's 

Sad, sad and evil starred 
Is woman's state 

What shelter now is left or guard? 
What spell to loose the iron knot of fate? a 

and Julie's outcry in The Three Daughters: 

. . . You understand now. You can never again imagine the tears I shed are 
tears of love. They are tears of remorse and misery. I hate you after your 
kisses. Our love is a duel in which I am worsted because what is best in me 
turns traitor. I blush at your victories because you could never have gained 
1 Act in. a Transl. Gilbert Murray. 


them without the help of what is base in me, without the baseness you know 
how to excite. 1 It is not I who yield. It is the animal in me. It is all that is vile. 
I hate you for the crime of our loveless marriage, the crime you force me to 
share. I admit you are not the only guilty one, you are not the only one 
worthy of contempt. But I have had enough of it. a 

or this fragment of dialogue from The House ofBernarda Alba: 

Poncia. . . . Years ago another one of those women came here, and I myself 

gave my eldest son money so he could go. Men need things like that. 
Adela. Everything's forgiven them. 

Amelia. To be born a woman's the worst possible punishment. 
Magdalena. Even our eyes aren't our own. 

(A distant song is heard, coming nearer) 
Poncia. There they are. They have a beautiful song. 
Amelia. They're going out to reap now. 
Chorus. The reapers have set out 

Looking for ripe wheat; 

They'll carry off the hearts 

Of any girls they meet. 

(Tambourines and carranacas are heard. Pause. They all listen in the silence cut 
by the sun.) 8 

Or Strindberg's pathological insight in Lady Julie, who has seduced 
her father's valet: 

Jean. . . . You hate men, Lady Julie? 

Julie. Yes, for the most part. But sometimes when weakness conies oh, 

the shame of it! 
Jean. You hate me too? 

Julie. Beyond words! I should like to have you killed like a wild beast. 
Jean. Just as one shoots a mad dog. Is that what you mean? 
Julie. Yes, just that! 
Jean. But now there's nothing here to shoot with and no dog! What are we 

to do then? 
Julie. Travel! 
Jean. And plague each other to death? 4 

1 Cf. Ycats's: 

I am in love 

And that is my shame. 

What hurts the soul 

My soul adores, 

No better than a beast 

Upon all fours. The Lady's First Song 
1 Act in. 
Loc. cit. t pp. 320-1. 4 Plays. 1930, Vol. II, p. 217. 


What is the place of all this in the tragic conflict and resolution? The 
violence and ruthlessness of the biological urge, unfulfilled because 
convention or economics forbids it, lead to destruction. Its interest for 
the interactions of character upon character appear to be limited, since 
the seminal urge is sealed, as it were, in the very fabric of woman's 
being, and is not susceptible of a quick fulfilment and forgetting: 

Thou hast committed 
Fornication: but that was in a far country, 
And besides, the wench is dead. 

We are brought by our response to such suffering a stage on the tragic 
road, but not to the frontiers of the human spirit. But it is not easy to 
see just why. If 'the lineaments of satisfied desire' arc against the nature 
of things, is any sublimation possible? We have abandoned Blake's 
vision, as well as that of D. H. Lawrence. Is the tragic resolution best 
seen in women whose vision transcends the sense of their own human 
dilemma? Was this easier when such speech could be set in the mouth 
of Cleopatra, or Richard II's Queen, or the Duchess of Malfi? 

It may be, indeed, that the woman's part is, for the reasons I have 
suggested earlier in this chapter, to be the supreme evoker of pity; to 
offset the heroic mood in man; to bring us to question (as Ibsen and 
Brieux did) man's humanity; to repeat the question 

Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts? 

But the true woman's part, in high tragedy, is beyond all doubt to 
mirror the perfection of selfless love; springing from the quality of 
womanhood; that quality which Dante unravelled and wove into the 
Convivio. I do not find it in completeness except in one character: that 
of Cordelia upon whose sacrifice the gods throw incense. She is the 
pattern of the love that delivers from evil, she alone has the power to 
suffer all extremity without yielding to pain. In her is the earthly 
forgiveness of sin, charity made perfect: reflected in Lear's lyric 

No, no, no, no! Come, let's away to prison 

and manifested in the multiple emotions of joy, tenderness, the largesse 
of the spirit, the essential gentleness of Cordelia. In other women of 
other great tragedies, the spirit shines through the blood momentarily; 
as a whole it is intermittent, incomplete, made impure by the pathetic 


or the sensual. Only in Faust can we find something parallel; the mother 
and lover in a momentary perfection. But in those moments Shakes- 
peare's vision remains: 

Sorrow would be a rarity most belov'd, 
If all could so become it. 


The 'Minute Particulars' 

For what but eye and ear silence the mind 
With the minute particulars of mankind? 


In the presence of wax figures we have all felt a peculiar uneasiness. This 
springs from the ambiguous impression they make on us, which prevents 
our adopting a definite attitude towards them. When we feel them as human 
beings they mock us; and if we see them as fictions they seem to quiver in 
irritation. There is no way of reducing them to mere objects. Looking at 
them we are confused with the suspicion that it is they who are looking at 
us, and we end up by feeling a loathing towards this kind of superior corpse. 
The wax figure is pure melodrama. 1 



INNUMERABLE critics have commented on the 'richness' of the 
texture of Chaucer or Shakespeare, and (from a very different angle) 
on that of Milton. We remember the strange and casual ir relevancies in 
Chaucer that somehow illuminate character; the moistness and newness 
of the Wife of Bath's boots, the inconsequential humour in the de- 
scription of the Cooke: 

But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me, 

That on his shine a mormal haddc he; 

For blankmangere, that made he with the beste. 

We remember too the conversation in Justice Shallow's orchard, two 
old men talking of their dead friends, and of the price of bullocks and 
ewes; Lear's madness evoking his memories the review of troops 
the challenge the flying of the hawk; the incredible and inconse- 
quential puns of Antony or Lady Macbeth; the fatuities of Pandarus' 
comments to Cressida on the procession of knights. The 'minute 
particulars' are not stream-images 8 or symbols, though we sometimes 
try to perceive them as such. They are rather the most delicate and 
sensitive perceptions of a rounding quality in humanity, a shading and 
contrasting of personality. We may suspect they are in fact significant 

1 The Double Vision of Michael Robartes. 

1 Ortega: cit. Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain, pp. 84-5. 

* Cf. p. 135 infra. 



lines left to emerge from character that has been conceived in 
the round and far more fully; and then, as it were, erased with a 
happy selectivity. Nor are they of the nature of comic relief, though 
they may have in Shakespeare a delicate humour of their own. Some- 
times a memory may be thrown up, integrated, with a kind of meta- 
physical wit in its context; as when Hamlet whirls an imaginary lure 
about his head to make the Ghost stoop to it: 

Hillo! ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come! 

It was perhaps the abundance of richly-stored memories, a common 
bond in the countryside between dramatist and audience, that made this 
rounding abundance possible. It is in part the extreme objectivity of 
the modern dramatist that makes it comparatively rare to-day. The 
tradition of the tendenz-drama, the well-made tightly-knit play whose 
every phrase must tell, is also against it; attention is concentrated, by 
stage directions or even by preliminary instructions to the producer, 
on 'significant* details that will earn an obvious place in the dramatic 
whole; and this may be at the cost of the apparently irrelevant richness 
and inconsequentiality in the delineation of character idiosyncrasies 
is too strong a word for what I have in mind which contribute to the 
essential humanity of the tragic characters. The most dramatic failures 
in this respect are the procession of personages, with their strange 
historical trajectories, in Hardy's Dynasts, the otiose characters with 
which Ibsen deliberately crowded his canvas in Emperor and Galilean, 
or the ponderous manipulation of historical character in modern 
tragedy in accordance with the demands of 'research'. 1 

Characterjn drama has many facets. The quality of energy, that 
'eternal delight', is quickly perceptible on the stage or in the study, but 
is never easy to define. 'You cannot give a body to something that 
moves beyond the senses, unless your words are as subtle, as complex, 
as full of mysterious life, as the body of a flower or of a woman.' a 
Character, at its greatest, moves beyond the senses. Its quality derives 
from a certain pregnancy and individuality of phrase, 'it talks itself 
into life'; the first being its creator's response to the economy of the 

1 We may instance Drink water's Abraham Lincoln-, and the vast amount of money, 
time and labour expended by 'researchers' for Hollywood's historical subjects. This type 
of detail too often swathes the characters in 'approved' detail of dress and character, and 
masks them from any semblance of humanity. 

* Yeats, Essays, p. 201. 


play, the second a matter of portraying its characteristic habit of 
thought and the establishment of relationships within the orbit of that 
thought. The qualities of 'charm* and 'versatility' arc brought out by 
its response to the apparently trivial or irrelevant moments of its 
experience; and the great dramatist can without a laboured over- 
loading of imagery make these moments contribute simultaneously 
ro the rounding of the character and to the significance of the larger 
aspects of the action. 

The quality of extension in tragedy is in part dependent on the 
felicity with which the minor characters are drawn. Unless they are in 
some way made both credible and living the main characters lack 
reflected light and a certain warmth. In any play that carries a multi- 
plicity of them there cannot be adequate drawing; and the flash of 
inspiration that brings a character to life, as it does Osric in Hamlet or 
the drunken Lcpidus in Antony and Cleopatra, requires a special genius. 
Webster is full of selected detail that sometimes leaves us with a sense 
of hopelessly overdone violence; but which at its best, backs up char- 
acter unerringly with its explosive image-making. In neo-classic drama 
in general the care for correctness, the emphasis on the platitudinous 
heroic, seem to eliminate any rounding off by the irrational-significant. 
Once moral character is isolated and focused to illuminate passion, the 
figures are burdened with a peculiar rhetorical stiffness superimposed 
from without by their creator. 'They came to hear a certain number of 
lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation/ * 

English Romantic tragedy is at once too serious in a minor sense, too 
consciously poetic in its own neo-Shakespearian style, to allow its 
characters to grow: Kcats's Otho the Great is now unreadable, and 
Byron's Manfred little better; Browning's Luna, with its complex plot 
and heavy language, wholly lifeless. (It is curious that Browning, who 
could use the minute particulars with such effect in the dramatic mono- 
logues, seemed incapable of embodying them in tragedy proper; it is 
as if his eyes were focused on the need for a strange stiff discipline of 
the dialogue for the stage that inhibited creativity.) It is not till the end 
of the nineteenth century that we get this significant detail building 
up again, and here the most interesting statement is Strindberg's: 

I have avoided the mathematically symmetrical construction of French 
dialogue and let people's brains work irregularly, as they do in actual life, 
where no topic of conversation is drained to the dregs, but one brain receives 
haphazard from the other a cog to engage with. Consequently, my dialogue 

1 Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare. 


too wanders about, providing itself in the earlier scenes with material which 
is afterwards worked up, admitted, repeated, developed and built up, like 
the theme in a musical composition. 1 

The danger of Strindberg's method is over-emphasis on this them- 
atic haphazard quality of speech, so that the dialogue becomes con- 
trived; the Count's boots that Jean is cleaning, Julie's handkerchief, her 
pet dog that runs after the lodgekeeper's dog, 2 take on by the emphasis 
of repetition the nature of symbols. The 'particulars' must be kept in 
a delicate balance, lest they oppress the tragedy and rob it of vitality. 
The background incidents of such a play as Maeterlinck's L'Intruse are 
too heavily contrived to subserve the tragic effect. We may remember 
the artificial concatenation of them; the carpenter sawing, the gardener 
sharpening his scythe, the nightingales that stop singing and the lamp 
that dies for want of oil, the glass door that is open, and that cannot be 
shut because something invisible has blocked it. The marked and 
precise imagery of Les Aveuglcs, the gradations of darkness, the blind 
girl who can only smell the flowers while the others can only smell the 
earth, suggests a recondite and literary approach to the poet's char- 
acteristic attempts to approach the Unexpressed. Les Sept Princesses, 
with its imagery which reads like a case-book of dream interpretation, 
is the reductio ad absurdum of his method; Ptlltas and Me'lisande, with its 
more cogent action, its shadow of desire, and its momentarily effective 
symbolism, is more satisfying. But his revolt against 'pathetic' and 
'heroic' tragedy, his attempt to communicate his own particular world, 
lead him to his own interpretation of the minute and troubling parti- 
culars. The 'inner communication' which he seeks is to be attained by 
the unspoken: 

There must be something other than the dialogue which by external 
standards is necessary. It is really only those words which at first seem useless 
that mean anything m a play. They contain the soul of the play Alongside 
the inevitable dialogue there is nearly always a second dialogue which appears 
superfluous. Watch carefully, and you will realize that this is the only 
dialogue to which the soul is attentive, for only there do we speak with it. 
You will also find that it is the texture and range of this unnecessary dialogue 
which finally determine the quality of the play and its significance. 3 

The attempt to communicate by devices other than dialogue, the 
silences of Galsworthy and of O'Neill, presuppose an excited and 
collaborating audience, wrought to such a pitch of attention that 

1 Preface to Lady Julie. a Cf. the coupled dogs in Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode. 

8 Le Trfcor des Humbles, pp. 173-4. 


silence, detail, light, the accessories of costume and staging, are allowed 
to do their work This thread of attention is easily broken, particularly 
in quasi-naturalistic tragedy, and the spoken word remains the most 
potent device for building emotional tension. It is possible that the 
growing subtlety of cinema technique, and the gradual education of 
the audience in response to them, may ultimately increase the tragic 
dramatist's resources. 

Yet it is perhaps in Ibsen that the minute particulars can still be 
studied with most profit, because of the perfection of their integration 
with the general design. There will always be differences of opinion 
both as to their interpretation and their centrality. We may remember 
the white shawl that Mrs Solness wears that suggests a shroud; Wehrle 
the photographer in The Wild Duck reproducing stereotyped senti- 
ments that are the commonplaces of those who see superficialities only; 
the 'burning' motifs in Ghosts. That they sometimes appear intrusive, 
or too contrived, is partly because we hear or read them in the strange 
idiom of translation. It is of their essence that, like the images, they 
should stimulate the imagination without setting limits to the shores 
on which the ripples end: that the language in which they are expressed 
should have the peculiar pregnancy of phrase that throws its double 
light: backward upon the characters, and forward, however faintly, 
into the nature of the tragedy itself. 

The element of the pathetic in tragic communication can be con- 
sidered as among the minute particulars. It appears to deal with a type 
of response that is valuable as sensitizing certain accessible but super- 
ficial layers of emotion. As such, it may be thought to have two 
objects: the establishment of a rapid, pitiful relationship with day to 
day or 'domestic' experience, and the establishment of sympathetic 
links with the physical side of pity as perceived in day to day aspects of 
living. The pathetic is always delicately balanced on the knife-edge 
between what is effective and acceptable, and what may be thought 
sentimental, and this again depends mainly on the setting and 'timing' 
of its use. At its best, we may think of it as important in preparing the 
way for deeper emotions, perhaps even existing in its own right to 
release initial clusters of emotions that must be cleared away before the 
full response can take place. The sense of place, childhood and its 
happiness (and all accessories to childhood), the Nurse, faith or its lack 
in servants, pets or animals, all enter in. The Duchess of Malfi's 

Farewell, Cariola! 
I pray thee, look thou giv'st my little boy 


Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl 

Say her prayers ere she sleep. Now what you please: 

What death? * 

may be remembered beside Shakespeare's children, and the dead child's 
clothes that Brand denies to its mother. Ophelia's ballads have relevant 
pathos in their context; Antony's discourse over the dead Caesar 
touches deliberately the springs of the pathetic past: 

You all do know this mantle: I remember 

The first time ever Caesar put it on; 

'Twas on a summer evening, in his tent, 

The day he overcame the Nervii. 

Look ! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through . . . 2 

We may consider, side by side, two laments, each seeking to establish 
the sense of sorrow through the pity of the mother-son relationship. 

Mrs. Tancred. Me home is gone, now; he was me only child, an* to think 
that he was lyin* for a whole night stretched out on the side of a lonely 
counthry lane, with his head, his darlm' head, that I ofen kissed an* 
fondled, half-hidden in the wather of a runnin' brook. An* I'm told that 
he was the leadther of the ambush where me nex' door neighbour, Mrs. 
Mannin', lost her Free State soldier son. An* now here's the two of us ouF 
women, standin* one on each side of a scales o* sorra, balanced be the 
bodies of our two dead darlin* sons. 8 

O'Casey's speech, both in rhythm and in idiom (I do not think that 
the last image is of the common language) has a false ring, even in its 
relation to the particular character: and the pathetic is used with some- 
thing less than tact. Contrast the following from Synge: 

Maurya. There was Sheamus and his father, and his own father again, were 
lost in a dark night, and not a stick or sign was seen of them when the 
sun went up. There was Patch after that was drowned out of a curagh 
that turned over, I was sitting here with Bartley, and he a baby lying on 
my two knees, and I seen two women, and three women, and four women 
coming in, and they crossing themselves and not saying a word. . . . 4 

'And he a baby on my two knees.' The tragedy of the spirit is balanced 
against the tragedy of the body, to remind us, whether in a mood of 
morbidity, cynicism or tenderness, of those antinomies. This is one 
function of the Nurse in tragedy, that half-irrelevant character who 

1 rv. ii. 206. * ra. ii. 170. 

* Juno and the Paycock, Act u. * Riders to the Sea. 



draws a rich abundance from her double contact with the physical, and 
with the wonder of personality emerging in growth. So the Nurse in 
Romeo and Juliet with her coarseness, vitality, and vulgar love of 
suspense is an essential counterweight to a romantic dream of love that 
might easily have become vapid or over-ethereal. For the Nurse, as 
that character in the Choephoroe of Aeschylus points out, is the essential 
link in the human chain of being, the crude and constant remembrancer 
of man in his utmost extremity of flesh, whether in infancy or in old 

Though You can fashion everything 

From nothing every day, and teach 

The morning stars to sing, 

You have lacked articulate speecn 

To tell Your simplest want, and known, 

Wailing upon a woman's knee, 

All of that worst ignominy 

Of flesh and bone. 1 

So the Nurse's jesting at Juliet's marriage bears retrospectively a 
terrible irony when she is deserted by both mother and Nurse, as in 
that strange dialogue when Juliet suddenly puts on womanhood; 
immediately after the Nurse has betrayed her by praising Paris: 

Juliet. Speakest thou this from thy heait? 
Nurse. And from my soul too; 

Or else beshrew them both. 

(The slight hint of garrulity contrasting with Juliet's sharp staccato 


Juliet. Amen! 

Nurse. What ! 

Juliet. Well, thou hast comforted me marvellous much. 

Go in, and tell my lady I am gone . . .* 

The Nurse or the old servant, deference and familiarity and maybe 
bawdry too, serves as 'the weather-beaten conduit of many kings' 
reigns'. Such a character enforces a new perspective, a sense of time and 
of the body, a healthy corrective to over-much conflict of the spirit, 
and an extended perception of the ironical through the difference of 
planes. And the ironic possibilities of the Nurse-child relationship (have 
we not lost much by eliminating servants from tragedy?) are consider- 
able. Antigone in Anouilh's play has been out to bury her brother. 
She knows that her action will be discovered. 

1 Yeats, A Pray erf or my Son. * ffl. v. 228. 


Nurse. . . . But your Uncle Creon will hear of this! That, I promise you. 

Antigone (a little wearily). Yes, Creon will hear of this. 

Nurse. And we'll hear what he has to say when he finds out that you go 
wandering alone o' nights. Not to mention Haemon. For the girl's 
engaged! Going to be married! Going to be married, and she hops out of 
bed at four in the morning to meet somebody else in afield. 1 Do you know 
what I ought to do to you? Take you over my knee the way I used to do 
when you were little. 

Antigone. Please, Nurse, I want to be alone. 2 

And a little later; for the pathetic itself, though incapable of resolution, 
is valuable as a lyric interlude. 

Nurse (very tenderly). Where is your pain? 

Antigone. Nowhere, Nanny dear. But you must keep me warm and safe, the 
way you used to do when I was little. Nanny! Stronger than all fever, 
stronger than any nightmare, stronger than the shadow of the cupboard 
that used to snarl at me and turn into a dragon on the bedroom wall. 
Stronger than the thousand insects gnawing and nibbling in the silence of 
the night. Stronger than the night itself, with the weird hooting of the 
nightbirds that frightened me even when I couldn't hear them. Nanny, 
stronger than death, give me your hand, Nanny, as if I were ill in bed 
and you sitting beside me. 8 

Something of the same function is fulfilled by the bawdy in tragedy, 
with additional complexities. This may arise from the by-passing of the 
subconscious censor in time of great stress, extremities of physical pain; 
in this last lies the supreme genius of Edgar's acting of a madman, or 
the pathos of Ophelia's ballads. Or it may show itself with a kind of 
bitter ferocity that betrays, maybe, the sadism of the speaker, as often 
in Webster. The by-play in Antony and Cleopatra between Charmian, 
Iras, Alexas and the soothsayer is to have its ironic echoes later in the 
play (as in the jest on the figs); but brings out the human gaiety and 
love of innuendo of the two handmaidens, and lends some colour to 
Heine's picture of the witty brilliant court against the background of 
the eternal Pyramids: 'Wie witzig ist Gott!' 

A censorship now forbids the Rabelaisian, driving the dramatist to 
innuendo: which in its turn has to be so brain-contrived as to rob it of 
vitality. We may, for instance, speculate with profit as to how an 
Elizabethan would have handled the following piece of dialogue 
from O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Elektra. The General has just died, 

1 Her brother Polyneices, who is lying unburied outside the city. 
1 p. 15. * PP- 


poisoned by his wife; the doctor, who has attributed the death to 
angina, is discussing it with Borden: 

Blake . I'll tell you a secret, Josiah strictly between you and me. 

BorJen (sensing something from his manner eagerly). Of course. What is it, 

Blake. I haven't asked Christine Mannon any embarrassing questions, but I 

have a strong suspicion it was love killed Ezra! 
Borden. Love? 
Blake. That's what! Leastways, love made angina kill him, if you take my 

meaning. She's a damned handsome woman and he'd been away a long 

time. Only natural between man and wife but not the treatment I'd 

recommend for angina. He should have known better, but well he 

was human. 
Borden (with a salacious smirk). Can't say as I blame him! She's handsome! 

I don't like her and never did, but I can imagine worse ways of dying! 

(They both chuckle.) Well, let's catch up with the folks. 1 

The madman may bring many offerings to the tragic tomb: mainly 
because he is an ambivalent figure of horror, and (among the un- 
sophisticated) of veneration; because his licence of speech may extend 
to comment, prophecy, irony, bawdry, or truth. Like the Fool, he is 
afflicted and beloved of God. The song in The Duchess ofMalfi sung 
by a madman 'to a dismal tune*, is poor stuff, but the dialogue that 
follows upon the entry of Bosola is memorable: 

1. Mad-man (Astrologer). Dooms-day not come yet? I'll draw it nearer by a 
perspective, or make a glass, that shall set all the world on fire upon an 
instant: I cannot sleep, my pillow is stuffed with a litter of porcupines. 

2. Mad-man (Lawyer). Hell is a mere glass-house, when the devils are con- 
tinually blowing up women's souls on hollow irons, and the fire never 
goes out. 

3. Mad-man (Priest). I will lie with every woman in my parish the tenth 
night: I will tithe them over like hay-cocks . . . a 

But the madman, because of his segregation, is now an impossible 
figure on the stage, unless the scene is laid in the most primitive com- 
munities. Gerd in Ibsen's Brand, and the old grandmother in Lorca, 
are among the few examples in modern tragedy. In the close com- 
munity of the ship in Moby Dick, Pipe and Ahab are linked by a 
common madness; and just as the dogs bark at King Lear, and horse, 
hound and hawk desert the dying knight in The Twa Corbies, so the 

1 Plays (Cape, 1929), p. 119. * iv 11. 


school of fish leave their escort doomed vessel to follow another ship 
homeward bound. 

The minute particulars are not essential to all tragedy; but they can 
be of great power in the troubling of the mind to further receptiveness. 
From one point of view they are important indications of the drama- 
tist's sense of unity over the whole range of his material; his sympathy 
with the extremities of mankind, and his realization that, in Richards' s 
words, 'Tragedy is perhaps the most general, all-accepting, all-order- 
ing experience known.' 


'Those Masterful Images . . . 

Those masterful images, because complete 
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began? 


Imagery is the urgent means by which experience holds our attention. . . . 
Images are not still lifes to be hung on walls. They are visions of the history 
of the race and of life and death. STEPHEN SPENDER a 

One of the benefits of tradition is that it allows the subconscious safely 
to take the upper hand. THEODORE SPENCER * 

IN the last thirty years the nature, function and system of references of 
the poetic image have been handled by many eminent writers: in par- 
ticular Miss Bodkin, Miss Spurgeon, Miss Tuve, W. H. Clemen, Wil- 
son Knight, Cecil Day Lewis, William Empson, E. A. Armstrong. 
Much of their work, in its turn, owes a debt to such varied sources as 
The Golden Bough, Jane Harrison's Themis, and the writings of Freud, 
Jung and Jones. Any attempt to carry speculation a stage further must 
start by acknowledging its debt to them; and in particular to Miss 
Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. 

There are special dangers in such a study. Interpretations have an 
unduly large subjective element, and conclusions do not lend them- 
selves readily to verification. The deductions made by the amateur in 
psychological or anthropological studies tend to a licence of conjecture 
from which the professional is usually free. At the same time the moral 
and philosophical implications of the tragic dramatist's imagery are of 
such importance that, if the propositions with which I have been con- 
cerned are tenable, the image remains the single most important device 
for communicating the essential complexity and depth of the tragic 
experience. The task will not be any easier because of the need to deal, 
not only with individual images (themselves compounded of variables 
in time, space and human experience) but with groups of images, used 
in conjunction with other communicatory devices, to produce a final 

1 The Circus Animals' Desertion. * The Destructive Element, p. 280. 

1 Death and Elizabethan Tragedy, p. 209. 



response of which the permutations of the possible components might 
well seem infinite, and any selected response too personal or too 
arbitrary. Fortunately it is possible to check our investigations by 
taking note of the apparent recurrence whatever their superficial 
modifications of the images in the history of thought; by some con- 
textual limitation in the poetic statement; and by the technical factors 
implicit in the dramatic structure. 

For the purpose of this essay I propose to accept as read the more 
obvious image-classifications which have already been sufficiently 
emphasized: sometimes, we may think, to a degree which causes us to 
lose sight of the wider implications of the play. It is sufficiently clear, 
for example, that the storm in Lear has a symbolic value as indicative 
of cosmic disorder; that blood and darkness are dominants in Macbeth; 
that the wild duck whatever the meanings that commentators may 
have attached to that not wholly satisfactory symbol was intended to 
lie at the heart of Ibsen's play; that the statues of Artemis and Aphrodite 
show forth the dichotomy of the Hippolytus. We shall have occasion to 
mention these 'dominants'; but I am more concerned with the investi- 
gation of the 'intermittent' or 'accessory' images in the tragic structure. 
I therefore suggest three divisions of the image: 

1. The Dominants: 1 that is, one or more images that, by specific 
statement or inference, provide a framework or theme for the 
play; and in terms of which part or all of the dramatic statement 
is made. These will be of varying degrees of subtlety. Such are the 
Ice-Cavern in Brand, the Mill-Race in Rosmersholm, the Tower in 
The Master-Builder. 

2. 'Stream' images: that is, a sequence or cluster of images which 
work through repetition, absolute or incremental, and thereby 
establish and reinforce their meaning in the body of the play. 
Such images may serve to communicate various forms of irony 
and ambiguity. 

How far we are entitled to bring to the interpretation of such 
images our knowledge of previous usages established by the 
dramatist in work outside the given play is a matter of some 
difficulty. 2 

3. 'Intermittent' images, establishing their validity through their 
context; usually unconscious in their origin; with functionsin 

1 This usage corresponds, I think, to Empson's use of 'master symbol': cf. The Structure 
of Complex Words, p. 176. 

8 This question arises in the interpretation of Yeats, and perhaps of Eliot and Hardy. 


addition to the excitement of sensibility proper to all such of 
showing the impact of the relevant-irrelevant upon the design of 
the play. 

Any or all of these may be used to reflect, illuminate or extend the 
dramatist's purpose. In all of them we shall keep in mind the 
ambivalence of many, perhaps all of these images; and this ambivalence 
will frequently be perceived as one symptom of the tragic balance. 
The 'stream-images' appear to serve three functions. They emphasize 
the time-scale of the dramatic action. They draw attention to the 'pur- 
posive* quality in the structure of the play. And I suggest that, under 
certain circumstances, they set up a secondary or inductive current in 
the whole dynamic of the tragic statement. 

At this point it is convenient to consider the verse in Yeats's poem 
that immediately precedes the heading of this chapter: 

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread 
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea; 
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said 
It was the dream itself enchanted me: 
Character isolated by a deed 
To engross the present and dominate memory . . . 

Here are three images which exemplify the modification of traditional 
material to the purpose of the tragic poet. All three refer primarily l 
to the play On Bailes Strand. It is obvious that the myth of Cuchulain, 
with its powerful epic elements, had a multiple symbolic value for 
Yeats 2 as having been equated, in various ways, with his own personal 
mythologem, and as being the last of the 'Celtic' images that appeared 
to have stood the test of time. They will serve for the moment to 
suggest something of the mechanism of an archetypal image. 

Cuchulain stands for the hero, begotten mysteriously by a hawk 8 
out of a woman. He is typical of a score of such magical births. He has 
conquered, and loved, a fierce warrior woman: he does not know that 
she has borne him a son. He rebels against the High King, Conchubar, 
refusing to take the oath of loyalty to him. Unknowing, he fights with, 

1 Since they occur also in The Death of Cuchulain. 

* 'Who thought Cuchulain till it seemed 

He stood where they had stood?' 

' We need not stress the hawk-dove antinomy here, but the reader will be conscious 
of the dove-symbolism in many pictures of the Annunciation. 


and kills his son: after the Sohrab and Rustum pattern. The anagnorisis 
comes too late. Cuchulain rushes out to fight the sea, and dies in the 

The multiple pattern is sufficiently clear: magical birth, the conquest 
and subjugation of woman, the slaying of the son, the death in conflict 
with the sea: standing for the One against the Many, or man against 
nature, or sex, or the life-matrix: the whole representing a many-sided 
conflict whose only possible resolution is death. But the pattern is even 
more complicated than this: for Cuchulain is wearing a cloak woven 
from the sea-foam; itself apparently a sexual image of some 
complexity. 1 

The Fool and the Blind Man are the two subsidiary images; part 
traditional, part formed to constitute the two poles of the play: 

Second Woman. Who would have thought that one so great as he 
Should meet his end at this unnoted sword! 

First Woman. Life drifts between a fool and a blind man 
To the end, and nobody can know his end. 

Second Woman. Come, look upon the quenching of this greatness. 2 

The Fool is the empty man; to whom the knowledge of ultimates, or 
of God, is in some sort given. The Blind Man is powerless without his 
eyes, which he borrows from the Fool: but it is his knowledge that 
reveals to Cuchulain that he has killed his son. (The type of the blind 
seer is a very ancient one.) Both are aspects of natural man (consider 
Caliban's 'I must eat my dinner'). Both punctuate the action of the 
play. They supply the commentary on the final reported scene, but 
from two different angles; for the Fool is aware of the mystery of what 
he has seen. The passage is worth quoting in full: 

Blind Man. Come here, Fool! 

Fool. The waves have mastered him. 

Blind Man. Come here ! 

Fool. The waves have mastered him. 

Blind Man. Come here, I say. 

Fool (coming towards him, but looking backwards towards the door). 

What is it? 

Blind Man. There will be nobody in the houses. Come this way; come 
quickly ! 

The ovens will be full. We will put our hands into the ovens, 3 

1 Consider the pictorial representations of the birth of Venus. 
a Collected Plays, p. 271. 3 Ibid., p. 278. 


We may see both the dominant and stream-images in the Oresteia 
of Aeschylus. The originating crime, begetting its accumulation of 
evil, is 'Thyestes* banquet of his children's flesh'. The trilogy is prim- 
arily concerned with the parent-child relationship, analysed in the 
ingenious debate in the Eumenides. Yet through it runs the train of 
images from eating: devouring, bloodsucking, biting; Clytemnestra 
describes herself as 'a dog watching over a house'; the Furies are 'my 
mother's angry dogs'. The apophthegm homo hotnini lupus is older in 
folk-lore than the Eurnenides, and it is still possible to evoke the terror 
of the pursuit. Miss Bodkin, indeed, suggests a Furies Archetype, 1 the 
energy of passion fixed in an evil relationship but capable of trans- 
formation into a good one. Both the wolf and the horse, their terror 
abundantly verified in dream-psychology, are common in this context. 
Macbeth's vision of the sightless couriers of the air (and Blake's 
intensification of it), Ibsen's White Horses of Rosmersholm, and man's 
perennial attempt to express compound attitudes in the centaur or 
the unicorn, will serve as examples. The wolf-dog imagery has many 
facets; man's desired control of brute creation, and his partial failure; 
the pursuit in the dark; fidelity, subservience and treachery; a kind of 
snobbishness in the rejection by the dog, as in King Lear: 

The litde dogs and all, 
Tray, Blanch, and Sweet-heart, see, they bark at me. 

Empson a has pointed out with the utmost ingenuity the multiple and 
conflicting imagery of the word dog in Timon of Athens, and shows how 
opposing feelings can exist simultaneously. At the same time it is 
probably wise to remember, in the quest for ambiguities, the traditional 
usages, as in the Hindu or Homeric or Biblical scale of insults and 
threats. The presupposition of a State in a condition of conflict or dis- 
union gives rise naturally to a train of disease imagery: whether in 
Sophocles' Antigone, or in Hamlet, or in so much of Ibsen, 8 and the 
idea of the commonwealth as a body is too common to require 
Menenius' laboured parable in Coriolanus. The love-death antinomy, 
as one of the originating tragic situations, carries with it its own 
appropriate images; bed-tomb, death the ravisher or bridegroom, form 
a natural sequence in the delineations of unsatisfied desire. The images 

1 The Quest for Salvation. * The Structure of Complex Words, p. 177. 

* Cf. the common (and partly justified) accusation of Ibsen's obsession with concealed 


spread out their delicate tentacles into the past, maintaining (at their 
best) a delicate and deliberate balance between enrichment of meaning 
and sheer decoration. So in the passage from Romeo and Juliet: 

Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath, 
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty: 
Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet 
Is crimson in thy hps and in thy cheeks, 
And death's pale flag is not advanced there. 

It is easy to expand our exegesis of such a passage, without reference 
to what we may take to be the far more generalized impact of it upon 
the audience in a theatre. We can, for instance, point to the death-bee- 
sting cluster from the Lesson for the Burial of the Dead, without im- 
mediately admitting the honey-sexual pleasure or potency- wisdom 
group. 1 We may or may not connect the sexual kiss in connection with 
the leave-taking of the dying, remembering Donne's 

Soe, soe, breake off this last lamenting kisse, 
Which sucks two soules, and vapors Both away . . . 

or the power, the accented word, as having its sinister implications of 
rape, imprisonment, corruption. It is legitimate to perceive, in the 
battle imagery of the next three lines, a normal prothalamic approach, 
to point to the ante-sign of the royal passionate colour; without neces- 
sarily remembering the line in the Song of Solomon 

. . . Terrible as an army with banners. 

The image of the coldness, advancing from feet to head, may draw 
simultaneously on memories of the deaths of Socrates and of Falstaff. 
We must, I believe, hold to an intermediate position m the inter- 
pretation of the images, keeping in mind traditional usage, the require- 
ments of the stage, the difficulty of communicating 'the minute parti- 
culars', and the increasing gap between the reader and the audience; 
the latter reacting at high speed and at widely-differing levels, the 
former bringing to interpretation the equipment and presuppositions 
of the literary mind. Certain images suggest themselves naturally in 
a given context, and may, by repetition or by emphasis, acquire the 
character of symbols. The uncurtained windows in a lighted room 
(Maeterlinck and Eliot), Hedda Gabler's pistols, the Silver Tassie as 
the chalice in O'Casey's play of that name, are all obvious devices. 

1 Cf. '. . . Honey of generation has betrayed': and honey in the story of Samson. Cf. 
also Kranach's Venus in the Borghese. 


The animal imagery in Lear, musical imagery in Othello, disease in 
Hamlet, are no more than evidence of high competence in a well- 
established poetic tradition, in which just such a range of simile and 
metaphor is part of the poetic equipment and heritage. It is possible 
that we may be led to dangerously subjective interpretations by press- 
ing them to conclusions (whether archetypal or Freudian) without 
full and prior consideration of their simpler connotations. And if such 
images appear irrational or arbitrary, it is worth while to examine 
them in order to ascertain what personal memories or associations may 
have set up in the poet's mind such image-clusters or groups. 1 

A striking analysis of the Romantic Image is given by W. H. Auden 
in The Enchafed Flood: much of which is concerned with a ship symbol, 
leading to a most illuminating analysis of Moby Dick. There is some 
analogy, in the choice of the ship setting for a tragedy, with the 
qualities of the tragic structure itself: 

A constant aesthetic problem for the writer is how to reconcile his desire 
to include everything, not to leave anything important out, with his desire 
for an aesthetic whole, that there shall be no irrelevances and loose ends. The 
picture has to be both complete and framed. The more society becomes 
differentiated through division of labour, the more it becomes atomized 
through urbanization and through greater ease of communication, the 
harder it becomes for the artist to find a satisfactory solution. 2 

The image clusters of drama are infinite in their character, inter- 
relation, and potential interaction. It is misleading to give anything 
approaching equivalent meanings: the suggestions in brackets are no 
more than indications of some of the apparent significances in dramatic 

Sun (fire, father, power, fertility, harshness) 

Moon (mother, change, gentleness, chastity) 

Storm (all types of conflict) 

Ship (security and jeopardy; co-operation and order; passage from life to 


Fog and Mist (confusion of the spirit, loss of objective) 
Birds (soul; ominous; cf. the carrion birds; pride for hawks and eagles) 
The Dragon and his kindred (the supreme Enemy, the swallower of the Sun; 

the evil haunter of springs and wells; the deceiver of the young and 


1 Cf. E. A. Armstrong, Shakespeare s Imagination. ' p. 62. 


Beasts (man less soul: cf. Lear vs. When We Dead Awaken', Blake's Nebu- 

All Sea-Beasts (power uncontrollable by man; the saviour or helper of man; 
that which issues from the depths and returns to them) 

Sea (life and death-giver: sleep or restlessness; the eternal engulfmcnt of man 
and his creations) 

River (the crossing to death; the time-flow; mergence into the sea) 

Horse (power, terror, justice of the skies: combination of its noblest qualities 
with man combined in the centaur) 

The tree (mystery of growth; magnificence and strength; microcosm of 
seasonal cycles; helplessness before man's power) 

The garden (order; man's power vs. nature's wildncss) 

The stone (death, insensibility, the sealer of the past) 

The candle and lamp (vitality, fertility, sexual union, destruction of life) 

The cave (refuge, rebirth, security, prison) 

All weapons (essentially a confirmation and extension of individual power, 
often phallic) 

As examples of some of these mysterious effects we might quote, 
arbitrarily, the following: 

. . . the odds is gone, 

And there is nothing left remarkable. 

Beneath the visiting moon. 1 

The Stranger in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea. 

The conclusion of the making of the supreme harpoon for theWhite 

This done, pole, iron, and rope like the Three Fates remained inseparable, 
and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon; the sound of his ivory leg 
and the sound of the hickory pole, both hollowly ringing along every plank. 
But ere he entered his cabin a light, unnatural, half-bantering yet most 
piteous laugh was heard. Oh, Pip! thy wretched laugh, thy idle but un- 
resting eye; all thy strange mummeries not unmeaningly blended with the 
black tragedy of the melancholy ship, and mocked it! 2 

(Spear-harpoon; the substitute limb made out of ivory of the sea- 
beast; the archetypal Fool the black ship.) 

Death deserves only your scorn. He lets the immense net fall, mows men 
down at random, grotesque, appalling, vast ... But whoever h<is seen how 
you ride the storm, finger the trigger of a machine gun or the helm of a 
ship, make the most of everything and adroitly down your foe, knows that 
the valour of a man is a very different thing. Poor death . . . clumsy fool. 3 
1 A. & C., rv. xiii. 66. " Moby Dick, Ch. CXII. a Anouilh, Eurydice, pp. 145-6. 



The power of the pregnant image, its resonances and overtones, can 
be readily seen by contrast with 'flattened', and ineffective imagery, 
whatever the cause of its failure. Perhaps these come most often into the 
'frigid' category of 'Longinus'; they lack vitality because they are both 
too 'literary', too obvious, too single-moulded in their purpose. We 
may quote from Hardy's Dynasts: 

the enormous tale 

Of your campaign, like Aaron's serpent-rod, 
Has swallowed up the smaller of its kind. 1 


Till dangerous ones drew near and daily sowed 
Those choking tares within your fecund brain.* 

When Hardy speaks of the accoutrements of cavalry flashing in the 
sun 'like a school of mackerel' we are conscious not only of the inept- 
ness of the image but also of its inelasticity; as contrasted, say, with 
Vernon's description of the rebel army before Shrewsbury: 

All furnish'd, all in arms, 
All plum'd like estridges that wing the wind, 
Baited like eagles having lately bath'd . . , 8 

For it is not only the flatness of conception but the rhythm that marks 
the effective image: we may contrast this from Arnold's Merope: 

He would not let his savage chiefs alight, 
A cloud of vultures on thi$ vigorous race; 
Ravin a little while in spoil and blood, 
Then gorg'd and helpless be assaiTd and slain. 4 

with a passage where the tension is admittedly low: 

For once the eagle England being in prey, 
To her unguarded nest the weasel Scot 
Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs, 
Playing the mouse in absence of the cat, 
To tear and havoc more than she can eat. 6 

It is true to say that the rhythm of the setting of a given image will 
be a fair indication of its vitality, its kinetic energy. Where we have to 

1 p. 254. * p. 201. * / Henry IV t iv. i. 98. 

4 1. 295. * Henry K, I. ii. 169. 


deal with translation we suffer correspondingly, and must grope for the 
total meaning: or accept the looseness of the 'poetic' translation. 1 

But when we speak of the 'rhythm' of the image-setting, or of the 
total rhythm of a play, we are dealing with a subject for which no 
critical terminology exists, 2 and of which no satisfactory analysis or 
explanation can be given. 


She should have died hereafter . . . 
or Cleopatra's 

Give me my robe, put on my crown . . . 

can be discussed only tentatively as regards their imagery and its 
relationship to the rest of the play. The rhythm of the play itself is 
built up by the dramatist's intuitive skill in checking or accelerating 
the pulse of a general movement, by balancing the release of forces 
from the past to impinge upon developing action in the present and 
future. The rhythmic setting of the images is a reflection of the pressure 
behind the poetic statement, and it may be suspected that the lyric 
impulse may generate and order the images in such a way as to 
transcend, modify, or even appear to deny the previously-communi- 
cated qualities of a character. This is one explanation of the endlessly 
divergent interpretations of character. The critic selects one particular 
aspect to be 'stressed', often in pursuance of an a priori conception, and 
interprets imagistic elaborations in terms of this; and he docs so the 
more easily because of the essential indcfiniteness inherent in the 
images. In such states of exaltation or intensity the creative imagination 
draws more freely upon the vast reserves of the subconscious, moves 
more easily between them and the conscious stored memories. These 
last may be related cither to the dramatist's personal experiences and 
habits of association, or with the imaginatively conceived memories of the 
characters themselves', for I believe that the creative identification of a 
great dramatist with his characters is of such an order as to permit of 
this. It is thus that we may account for the recurrent link-images in 

1 Consider the controversies aroused by, e.g., Gilbert Murray's translations of Euripides, 
or Yeats's of Oedipus Tyrannus. On the other hand, much of Lorca's imagery seems to 
'come through". 

8 A similar difficulty is apparent in attempts to use prosodic analysis for purposes of 
applied criticism. 


Shakespeare; the linage-clusters l which usually appear on a lower 
level of poetic statement representing the more personal experiences 
of the poet himself. Perhaps at the last we can say no more of this 
rhythmic setting in tragedy than we can of any great poetry; that its 
insufficiency is patent in second-rate work, and that the intuitive per- 
ception of the organic quality of rhythm and image is the only 

The 'masterful images', then, perform a number of complex func- 
tions as components of the dramatic structure. The use of one or more 
dominant images may provide a complete framework for the Idea, a 
framework whose joints may be tightened or loosened as the dramatist 
desires. When the dominant acquires or arrogates to itself multiple 
meanings, either at different levels of perception or by different applica- 
tions to different parts of the play, it may become a symbol. As such 
it may become 'penumbral' or extensible, its significance deliberately 
set out of focus to correspond with the limitations of human perception. 
If it appears to be related to a recurrent human situation it may be called 
archetypal, the only test being the recurrence of that image in the 
history of poetry, combined with its continual power to radiate new 
meanings, since the inner tensions that it represents are both constant 
and not susceptible to analysis. The Fool in his various manifestations 2 
is perhaps the most mysterious and interesting example, the source of 
wisdom, the evoker of pity and terror, the afflicted and blessed of God, 
whose speech reveals essential antinomies, oscillating between laughter 
and fear, and who is in certain ways peculiarly fitted to become the 
poet's mouthpiece. 3 

The 'stream-images' grow naturally out of the poetic, partly through 
a conscious selection of language appropriate to the theme, partly 
because of effective and serial associations 4 that take place in the act 
of composition. They are to some extent 'self-begetting', in Yeats's 
phrase; their groupings about a single referent may, through an attack 
from different angles, build up in the time-scheme of the play an effect 
which resembles that of the dominant. 

1 1 am indebted here to E. A. Armstrong, Shakespeare's Imagination, and in particular 
to Ch. XIX. 

1 Cf. Enid Welsford, The Fool. 

8 If it is true that the neurotic and the poet both react symbolically, the character of a 
neurotic as depicted by a poet raises some interesting questions. James Joyce uses the word 
Drauma (~ drama -f- trauma). Cf. F. J. Hoffman, Freudianism and the Literary Mind. 

4 Used in Armstrong's sense: op. cit. t p. 175. 


The 'intermittent' image, one that does not rely on repetition or 
some combination through association grouping, has a function of 
sudden illumination. If it is arbitrary, or appears extrinsic to the total 
statement, it can upset the tragic balance all too readily. At its most 
successful it offers the most memorable of all compressions: 

. . . and it is great 

To do that thing that ends all other deeds, 
That shackles accident, and bolts up change, 
That sleeps, and palates never more the dug, 
The beggar's nurse and Caesar's. 1 

or the Duchess of Malfi's famous: 

What would it pleasure me, to have my throat cut 

With diamonds? or to be smothered 

With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls? 

I know death hath ten thousand several doors 

For men to take their exits; and 'tis found 

They go on such strange geometrical hinges 

You may open them both ways Any way, for heaven sake, 

So I were out of your whispering. 2 

The images of a tragedy serve many purposes. They may tighten and 
cross-link its structure, emphasize and differentiate character, illuminate 
a situation. Above all, they assist in building the tragic perspective. 
Through them the play is perceived or distanced in rime, related to past 
present and future in the historical scene, united to a specific poetic 
tradition. By their recurrence, our Recognition' of them, they may link 
us to similar images, themselves pregnant of meaning in the past. 
Since the image at its best exists in virtue of its capacity to express 
what it itself contains, and is not expressible in other terms, its in- 
determinate quality or capacity for extension may assist the poetry of 
the play in its 'super-aesthetic function' 'in giving concrete unity and 
shape to "prospective ethos" ideals dawning in the moral conscious- 
ness of the community'. 3 And Hinks's phrase is illuminating for all 
dramatic characterization: 

But when we look into our minds and try to explain to ourselves why we 
behave as we do, symbolic expressions become at once inevitable and in- 
adequate. We are conscious of a unity, yet no single symbol is sufficient to 
render it. 4 

1 A. & C. v. 11. 4. 8 rv. ii. 219. 

8 Maud Bodkin, The Quest for Salvation (Oxford, 1941), p. 4: quoting Hartmann's 

4 Roger Hinks, Myth and Allegory in Ancient Art (London, 1939), p. 95. 


Towards a Shakespearian Synthesis 


THE critical history of Shakespearian Tragedy affords what is, perhaps, 
the classic instance of the perpetual shifting and development of the 
values attached in successive ages to an organic form. That it contains 
in itself qualities which produce this constant radiation of light, per- 
mitting the refraction and diffraction of the waves by such critical 
apparatus as is current from time to time, is a commonplace of literary 
critical history. The twentieth-century interpretation will tend to be 
less objective than Dryden's or Johnson's, more so than Lamb's or 
Carlyle's. Every shade of opinion can be seen in this living complexity. 
Two comparatively recent formulations may be selected for a start- 
ing point, those of Croce and A. C. Bradley. Consider first the 
sentences of Croce: 

Shakespeare shows himself clearly to be outside . . . every religious, or 
rather every transcendental and theological conception . . . He knows no 
other than the vigorous passionate life upon earth, divided between joy and 
sorrow, with around and above it the shadow of a mystery. 1 

Here is a flat denial of any conscious view of the tragic world, an 
assumption of an equilibrium which appears to exclude intuitive con- 
tent other than 'the shadow of a mystery*. 

And in another sentence: 

The poet ... is beyond being on the side of one or the other. He receives 
them all in himself, not that he may feel them all, and pour tears of blood 
around them, but that he may make of them his unique world, the Shake- 
spearian world, which is the world of undecided conflicts. 2 

The sky becomes dark after the devastating hurricane, honourable men 
occupy the thrones from which the wicked have fallen, the conquerors pity 
and praise the conquered. But the desolation of faith betrayed, of goodness 
trampled upon, of innocent creatures destroyed, of noble hearts broken, 

1 Ariosto, Shakespeare and Corneille, p. 154. * Ibtd , p. 144. 

I 4 6 


remains. The God that should pacify hearts is invoked, His presence may 
even be felt, but He never appears. 1 

Here arc explicit statements of 'negative capability', of tragic equili- 
brium, enclosed in a sense of destructive waste. There appears to be no 
resolution in any implicit or explicit morality; and Croce seems to 
deny the possibility of a positive synthesis. 

Nor is there anything to be built upon in those rare passages where it may 
seem that the poet breaks the coherence and aesthetic level of his work, in 
order to lay stress upon some real or practical feeling of his own. 2 

It may be noted that the general suggestion is that of a balanced 
stoicism. Beside these quotations we may consider Bradley; remember- 
ing that his position is largely conditioned by his re-statement of the, 
Hegelian position, and by his emphasis on character as the significant 
source of action. 

We remain confronted with the inexplicable fact, or the no less inexplic- 
able appearance, of a world travailing for perfection, but bringing to birth, 
together with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by 
torture and self waste. And this fact or appearance is tragedy. 3 

For the moment it is enough to remark that Bradley, as opposed to 
Crocc, appears to envisage the conquest of evil by good, but does not 
offer any consideration of the Christian position on the problem of 
evil, or any aesthetic considerations that might offer some alternative 
to Croce's stoicism. More recently we have a frank denial of Shake- 
speare's philosophical Anschauung: 'in his work [is] no system, exposed 
or half-exposed, of what may rightly be called a philosophy'. 4 

Against this we may set a recent pronouncement by Fluchere, who 
finds both an intuitive knowledge of man's strength and weakness 
which is, in effect, the prelude to higher things. Of Antony and Cleopatra 
he writes: 

The heavy covering of lead that weighed down the universe is lifted, the 
horror of death dispelled, the triumph of evil is no longer the only reward 
promised to human passions, revolt no longer the only possible attitude 
against indifferent or cruel gods. Shakespeare's tragic experience has gone full 
circle, and the first reconciliation takes place in a brilliant worldQoud with 
the clash of arms, traversed b)(grandiose political ambitions but made poetic 
by an immortal love. Man this time accepts his condition, measures his 

1 Ibid., p 144. 2 Ibid , p. 131. 8 Shakespearian Tragedy, p. 39. 

4 D G. James, The Dream of Learning, p. 2. 


weaknesses without disgust, but knows his grandeur also. The impossible task 
of being oneself no longer ends in failure because the true spirituality of man, 
which so many storms had obscured, ends by coming to light. 

This does not mean that evil has been finally laid low, or that the serpent 
will no longer dare show his head, but it does mean that he is no longer 
assured of being always the only victor . . . But we are still in a tragic universe 
where revelation is possible and complete only in the supreme test of abandon- 
ing a finite for a infinite world. It is reassuring that the passage should be 
made with the sense of eternity. But this is perhaps only the first step towards 
a new and even more exalting vision of life. In what are called 'the last plays' 
of Shakespeare it is this new final and reassuring vision that is given us. 1 

Tentative though this is, we have progressed a good way from the 
Crocean world; and the regeneration themes of the last plays, the 
wrenching back of A Winter's Tale from tragedy to pastoral 'great' 
comedy, appear to have won general acceptance. But Fluchere is 
cautious: 'Perhaps' this is only a first step towards the new vision: and 
as much has been said, though in different language, in the past. 

An examination of the divergent views on Shakespearian tragedy 
reveals a series of interpretations and explanations; few of them without 
some aspect of the truth as successive ages see it. At one end of the 
scale it is a historical phenomenon, the supremely fortunate though 
fortuitous meeting of a number of traditional currents. It is a form 
which owes something to medieval drama, both to Miracle and 
Morality; something (though decreasingly so of late) to the Greek 
ethics or to the Senecan stoicism; something to the Chronicle Plays; 
something to the medieval taste for the Gcsta Ilhutrorum Viromm\ all 
of these elements fused in the crucible of personality, and shaped and 
exsufflicated to meet the entertainment demands of a restless, cruel, 
emotional, superstitious and patriotic age. At the root of its 'philo- 
sophy* (if it may be called so) is the medieval conception of tragedy; 
mutability, the fall of Princes, the turning of the wheel. The quotations 
from the Monk's Tale are familiar enough; less often quoted is 
Chaucer's passage on Mutabilitie: 

This wrecched worldes transmutacioun, 
As wele or wo, now povre and now honour, 
With-outen ordre or wys discrecioun 
Governed is by Fortunes errour; 

1 Henri Fluch&re, Shakespeare, pp. 263-4. 


But nathcless, the lak of hir favour 
Ne may not don me singen, though I dye: 
'lay tout perdu mon temps et rnon labour: 9 
For fynally, Fortune, I thee defye! 

Yit is me left the light of my resoun, 

To knowen frend fro fo ui thy mirour. 

So much hath yit thy whirling up and doun 

Y-taught me for to knowen in an hour 

But trewely, no force of thy reddour 

To him that over him-self has the maystrye! 

My suffisaunce shal be my socour: 

For fynally, Fortune, I thce defye! * 

Spenser propounds a not entirely satisfactory solution on Platonic lines: 

I well consider all that ye have said; 

And find that all things steadfastness do hate 

And changed be; yet being rightly weigh'd, 

They are not changed from their first estate; 

But by their change their being do dilate; 

And turning to themselves at length again, 

Do work their own perfection so by fate: 

Then over them Change doth not rule and reign 

But they reign over Change, and do their states maintain. 2 

Shakespearian tragedy certainly inherited such traditions; but its very 
vitality is due to the divided outlook of the age, the uncertainty as to 
what, and how much, the new philosophy might call in doubt. At its 
best it could place under tribute the noblest that the High Renaissance 
had brought of both Hebraism and Hellenism, to combine them, for 
the only and last time, as Michaelangelo did, perhaps, in the Sistine 
Chapel. At its worst it could plumb the depths of sadism, sensation- 
alism, bawdry, and delight in childish gambolling among the new lush 
verdure of words. 

Another age sees in this tragedy a moral wisdom of the highest order, 
though its appearance may be intermittent, and itself distorted from 
time to time by a vulgarity which is ascribed to the author, or to its 
age, or to both. Yet another praises a divine power of insight, an 
organic creativity from which nothing is to be excluded or rejected. 
Another concentrates on the psychological subtleties of character, seek- 
ing to find the clue to the nature of the whole organism in their 

1 Balades dc visage sanz peinture: Le Pleintif countre Fortune. 

2 F.Q.; Mutabihtie, VII, 58. 


interactive responsibilities. Another may stress, and even idolatrize, the 
psychological significance of the complex images, their part in the 
poetic interpretation and evaluation of each play, and the implicit 
connections between them; projecting the images (as some think) 
beyond any legitimate interpretation, but claiming the irrefutable right 
to say: 'This is what it means to me/ 

At the outset we may admit that the original formulae for Shake- 
spearian tragedies are 'impure'; as containing elements which are 
fortuitous, designed to appeal to and at various levels of consciousness, 
and only reconcilable by a certain effort of the imagination, or at 
certain speeds and by certain emphases of production. The traces of the 
heterogeneous can be seen in all plays, but perhaps most strikingly in 
Romeo and Juliet or in A Winter's Tale, though critical opinion differs 
periodically as to the degree to which characters such as the Nurse are 
to be considered as integral with the tragic stream. The Porter in 
Macbeth and the Fool in Lear are standard instances; and no doubt the 
modern consciousness would go further than de Quincey or Lamb in 
the subjective interpretation of their values. (The symbolism of the 
Fool and the Blind Man in the tragic pattern will be discussed later.) 
Indeed, much of the controversy over the value of comic relief seems 
to hinge on the power to perceive the comedy in its counterpointing 
functions, and this in turn demands a full understanding of what the 
reader or spectator takes to be the dominant rhythms of each play. 
These conditions will in themselves vary according to the method of 
study, the additions or detractions given by remembered productions, 
and by personal preconceptions. For example, the interpretations of 
Antony and Cleopatra in terms of the tragic emotion have been vitiated 
either by considerations of morals, or by a narrow view of dramatic 
technique; that of Hamlet or Macbeth by a reluctance to accept the 
supernatural machinery even on symbolic terms. 

The dominant consideration would seem to be this: how far can we 
subordinate all such preconceptions to (a) our perception of the play 
as a structural rhythmic entity and (b) our response to its poetry and its 
symbolism? In short, we arc probably committed, in the Shakespearian 
synthesis, to the individual consideration of a highly complex system; 
of which the components will vary according to political, social and 
personal settings in the study, and which are subject to startling 
modifications in production. This intricacy can be suggested more 


readily if we consider a play of, say, Racine's, as a system offerees in a 
plane surface; Shakespearian tragedy might be denoted by such a system 
in three, or possibly four dimensions. In the third dimension, the solid- 
geometry characteristic given by the depth of the Shakespearian syn- 
thesis is equated with the counterpointed values of the plot; the fourth 
dimension is suggested by the elusive quality of the imagery and 

But it would, I think, be wrong to approach Shakespeare without a 
vivid appreciation of the Shakespearian interest in character, its pro- 
jection into action, and the judgement of both character and action by 
time. Shakespeare's very progress through the historical plays and their 
immense implications, to the tragic form in which the manipulation 
of material was easier, suggests that, ultimately, the problem was that 
of recognizing, explicitly or intuitively, the pattern from a standpoint 
which, however dispassionately studied, must possess important 
psychological and political links with events of his own day. If history 
were to be seen, intermittently and amid the confusion of conquests, 
in terms of a plan (which might, in moments of still higher exaltation, 
shadow forth a high mystery), then its importance lay not only in the 
exempla of Plutarch but in the conflicting personalities of Henry VIII. 
And behind such interest there was the whole Hebraic tradition, its 
mutations and characters; made vivid by minute particulars, coloured 
by the magnanimity or the eccentricity of individual leaders. 

It seems probable that, if we arc honest with ourselves, there are two 
courses open to us. 

1. To attempt to perceive the Shakespearian synthesis, initially, in 
its historical proportions; and having done that to allow for variation 
and deviation to the extent that seems necessary to make it comprehen- 
sible and significant. (The order of doing this is important.) 

2. To jettison any serious attempt to achieve a historical perspective, 
and to assume the right to interpret the plays in accordance with a 
strictly individual and subjective viewpoint, which may or may not 
assume a licence to disregard the historical perspective. 

(a) Contemporary sensibility which is devoid of exact knowledge of Shake- 
speare's place in the development of the British Drama, the physical and 
legal conditions of his stage, his acting company, his audience, and 
persons and events of his time, may easily lead to reading back into 


Shakespeare intentions, references, ideas and purposes which are mon- 
strous, where they are not ludicrous. 1 

(b) To analyse the sequence of events, the 'causes* linking dramatic motive 
to action and action to result in time, is a blunder instinctive to the 
human intellect. 2 

(c) We should not look for verisimilitude to life, but rather see each play 
as an expanded metaphor. 3 

(d) The tragedies of Shakespeare's maturity, from Macbeth onward, are 
characterized by a consistent progress towards the development of 
dramatic symbolism. This symbolism, which derives originally from an 
extension of the scope and purpose of the poetic image in the dramatic 
scheme, implies logically a new conception of plot. 4 

The three last pronouncements arc of some interest. As regards 
Wilson Knight's view, it is enough to say that it is meaningless unless 
we attach some specific and unusual meaning to the inverted commas 
that surround 'causes'. A 'cause' docs not, in any normal sense, link 
an action to its result; a state B is the outcome of an action A. Nor does 
a motive become linked to an action by a 'cause'. What does happen 
in drama, as Brunetiere saw, is that the springs of action arc volitional 
and arise directly out of the Elizabethan preoccupation with ethical 
problems; it is primarily, a question of moral responsibility which is 
seen at its simplest in Dr Fausfas, at its most complex in Hamlet, and at 
its most naive in, say, The White Devil. By the act of willing a character 
initiates a train of events. Whatever justifications we may adduce, in 
time past or time present, in supposed neurosis or environment, are 
subsidiary to this central fact. Upon this train impinge subsidiary trains 
of events, originating in others' wills, sometimes brought into collision 
by what appears to be accident, but which may, in proportion to the 
playwright's skill in unifying his subject, be perceived either as an 
acceleration in time, or as some manifestation, however dim and 
arbitrary, of the First Cause. The original train, modified or distorted, 
arrives at a result which we call, for dramatic purposes, the end. 6 

Now it is not clear how each of the tragedies is to be seen as 'an 
expanded metaphor', or what results are gained in a consideration from 

1 W. S. Knickerbocker, The Sewanee Review, XLVII, January 1939. 
* G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme. 

3 Ibid. 

4 D. A. Travcrsi, Scrutiny, October 1952. 

6 See, in general, Arthur SewelTs Character and Society in Shakespeare. 


this angle only. All dramatic imagery is reinforced by repetition; that 
repetition is thematic, arising out of the intrinsic nature of the subject. 
Macbeth from its whole setting demands poetic statement in terms of 
night, darkness, blood, and the traditional vocabulary for such themes; 
Lear employs, and repeats with variations, animal imagery, 1 compari- 
sons and similitudes that originate from the Bible, Elizabethan proverb 
lore, the normal images of 'the common passionate speech of the 
people'. Generation, ingratitude, and treachery are at the centre of Lear's 
world; its emblems are copulation or seed-time, the animal worlds that 
have particular relations with man serpent, dog, wolf, bear. Cata- 
clysmic events in nature have always been related by man to the 
human situation, and his sense of guilt and terror at the numinous; 
they predict hardship, poverty, war or death. Against this compound 
background of beast and storm a king is purified by suffering, a com- 
bination with precedents enough in religion and history. But in the 
foreground of Shakespeare's world there is, always, this failure of 
the will to act with judgement. In the last analysis there is character, the 
garment of the will; but, since it is not within the power of the 
dramatist to show the antecedent complexities of character forma- 
tion, 2 he is concerned with no more than a minimal selection of 
these. His concern is with the will, the right of choice; without 
attempting to show what lies outside this energy, except to speculate 
on how the will may be modified by a curse, or fate, or some cause in 
nature that makes these hard hearts. 

If we consider a Shakespearian tragedy as 'an expanded metaphor' 
we are, instead of elevating the function of the poverty, in danger of 
losing much of the effect of the play as a complex organism. If, in 
Traversi's words, our emphasis upon the 'expanded metaphor' 'leads 
logically to a new conception of plot' we must, I think, question what 
that new conception is. Does the plot now become merely a framework 
for the dramatic poetry, or rather for a particular aspect of that poetic 
'content'? Are the ethical problems, the roots of will and choice in 
character, merged in a larger unity to which we are given no clue save 
our total 'poetic response' to the play? And if that is so, are we com- 
mitted to a new subjective aestheticism in which the image becomes 

1 This seems more spontaneous and closer to common speech than many critics appear 
to suggest. I have heard the storm-dog image used by a peasant in the west of Ireland. 

* The exemplum adabsurdum of this is Mrs. Cowden Clark's The Girlhood of Shakespeare's 
Heroines. The jeu d f esprit of L. C. Knights' How many Children had Lady Macbeth is of 
course no more than a caricature of the Neo-Bradleiam: it is difficult to see how it can be 
taken seriously as an attack on Bradley himself. 


paramount; even though it is, in essence as in fact, a device for com- 
municating intense passion in speech? It is repeated because that passion 
is at the core of the play; it is dominant, or composed of dominants, 
because the poet has selected just those kinds of statement as appropriate 
to his theme. 

We can now examine one or two of the tragedies with these points 
in mind^/ 

Of all the plays it seems generally agreed that King Lear presents 
the most complicated pattern, at once the most profound, intimate, 
and 'public* of the great tragedies. We may distinguish a number of 
strands in the fabric after the following fashion. 

1. It is a play of Wrath in Old Age; a psychological study, on 
traditional lines, of petulance, choler, and the decayed judgements 
of senility. 1 

2. It is a play of mis-timed action, associated with this type; Lear's 
refusal to organize efficiently the matter of his abdication; 
Cornelia's obduracy when confronted with what must have been, 
to her, a known psychological condition. 2 

3. It is a play of Nature, and of the nature of Nature; of the 
existence and limitations of filial affection and compassion in 
Edmund, Edgar, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, wolves, bears, dogs. 

4. It is a play of convulsion, the distemper of the heavens echoing 
the distemper of man, and his state; a breach of the cosmic order. 

5. It is a play of expiation; not only by Lear but by Gloucester, 
Edmund, and perhaps Cordelia. 

6. It is a play of political forces, combining to achieve a somewhat 
timid reversal of the situation. 3 

7. On a symbolic level, there are perhaps five dominant images 
that appear to be archetypal. 

(1) Man vs. Beast. 

(2) The Blind Man! , rK>r 

(3) The Fool j components of Man. 

1 Cf. Lily Campbell, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes. 

* Consider the various attempts to account for the apparent inadequacy of the Abdica- 
tion Scene. 

* We need not agree with Miss Winstanley in finding a political key to the whole play 
(Lear and the Coligny Murders) or with those who find Cordelia's hamartia (in the Greek 
manner) in the unlawful invasion of Britain with alien forces. 


(4) The stripping of the king to his nakedness (cf. The 

Emperor's Clothes). 

(5) The Fighting of the Storm (or of the Sea). 1 

All these strands are woven into the pattern; and harmonized or 
counterpointed by Shakespeare's perpetual concern with the Nature 
of the King. (The immediacy of that subject to an Elizabethan can be 
readily understood.) One pole of that nature is his kingship, the other 
his childishness; between these two the personality of the Hero 
oscillates in time and space. Miss Bodkin has pointed out the ambiva- 
lence of the father-child relationship: the father is both the loved 
protector and the obstructive tyrant, the child both the loving support 
of old age, and the ruthless usurper. 2 The devices might easily have 
become sentimentalized; with Shakespeare it is always, or nearly 
always, redeemed by a strong dignity of control, as evidenced by the 
extreme simplicity of language, or by its contrived inadequacy in 
hysteria. There is precedent enough: Andromache causing the 
cauldron to be heated for Hector's bath against his return from battle. 
'She little dreamed that he lay far away from all baths now, dead at 
the hands of Achilles': Hector, tamer of horses, dragged by horses 
round the walls of his own city. So, too, the anchor in reality provided 
by Orestes' Nurse in the Choephoroe of Aeschylus, and common to all 
such figures who emphasize the extremities of the human by the 
remembered pathos and comedy of the physical. So Juliet's cry 

O God! O Nurse! 
Charmian's remembrance of her attiring of her mistress: 

Your crown's awry: 

I'll mend it, and then play. 

Nora's cry in Riders to the Sea: 

And isn't it a pitiful thing when there is nothing left of a man who was a 
great rower and fisher but a bit of an old shirt and a plain stocking? 

Between the poles of the heroic and the homely, king and beast, the 
play oscillates on its violent sea. At its centre the Fool and the Blinded 
Man stand beside the King: one in danger of whipping for speaking 
his wisdom, the other blinded for a night's pleasure, both now wiser 
than the King. Over all is the sense of power that has been borrowed, 
and which has released evil, and must work itself out in convulsion. 

1 As Xerxes, or Cuchulain. * Archetypal Patterns, pp. 15, 16. 


How much these strange minor figures do in fact contribute to the 
total tragic effect is impossible to define. They grow half- consciously : 
they cannot be interpreted rationally. It is in the nature of all archetypal 
figures that they should be indeterminate, expansive, in their signifi- 
cance; that they should be called into full activity in the pattern and 
rhythm of each play. They arc accessories, but indispensable once 
tragedy begins to be thought of as multi-dimensional in character. 
Little has been made, for instance, of the child-symbol in Macbeth', 
the dream child that Lady Macbeth denies, the Bleeding Child of the 
supernatural vision, the naked new-born child that is Pity, the 
murdered children of Macduff. For the child is hfe-in-death; it is the 
symbol of man's yearning for resurrection. 1 It is the ultimate focal 
point of all pity, love, and hate; since it carries in itself its mysterious 
heritage from the past in its own unique framework of simplicity. 


The intricacies of the pattern are less apparent in Antony and Cleopatra, 
where the system of tensions appears to be, at first sight, laid out upon 
a single plane. The overt moral principle embodied in Rome conquers 
ignominiously, cheated by death after the high Roman fashion. Like 
all, or nearly all the tragedies, it is a play of mis-timing, offerees loosed 
irrationally at critical moments by a strumpet's kiss, of a battle-ground 
chosen by mere sentiment, of strongly-marked periodic oscillations of 
intention. (Consider the balance of the scenes between Alexandria and 
Rome.) There is little suffering of the kind that is in King Lear, little 
endurance or patience. Twice catastrophe appears to admit of redemp- 
tion. In the background we are aware of two forces; the Pax Romana 
which exacts the Augustan lip-service to morality: and the strange 
phenomenon of luck (so familiar to any soldier) that is symbolized 
partly in the two daimons, partly in the musical desertion of the god 
Hercules. Again the poles of normality determine the bearings of hero 
and heroine; Enobarbus throws his cap into the air after the drinking- 
party where the third part of the world is carried drunk to bed, 
Cleopatra returns to womanhood before she can become a queen in 

1 Cf. Ker^nyi, The Primordia Child in Primordial Times (Introduction to a Science of 
Mythology, loc. cit.). 

'For he saw that life livd upon death: 
The Ox in the slaughter-house moans, 
The Dog at the wintry door; 
And he wept and he calfd it Pity, 
And his tears flowed down on the winds' 



death (consider Desdemona's Willow Song, Ophelia's snatches of 
bawdry) : 

No more; but e'en a woman, and commanded 
By such poor passion as the maid that milks 
And does the meanest chares. 1 

Of Hamlet, too much has been written; it is doubtful whether the 
woods of psychological criticism will ever be completely cleared of the 
undergrowth again. At the risk of over-simplification we may try to 
disentangle some of the threads: 

1. It is a play of revenge, and as such comprehensible to us only with 
a strong effort of the imagination. To an Elizabethan it was an 
activity of a quasi-sacred character, a rough but otherwise 
unattainable justice. 

2. The revenge theme is enforced, repeatedly, by the Ghost itself a 
phenomenon of horror; the disruptive past impinging upon the 
present, as surely as in an Ibsen tragedy. Again, it is only by an 
imaginative effort that we can recover the emotion of the 
unnaturalness of the situation, the resurrection of actions that 
should have been statute-barred; the perpetual fact of the past 
being stored against our ruin. 

3. Both the idea of revenge, and the idea of the ghost, thrive on the 
natural hostility between the King and his stepson, admirable 
though the former's tact may be. 

4. The loosing of evil is the more terrible because of the uncertainty 
of that evil its possible diabolical character and because moral 
and psychological law appears to support its claims. 

5. Woman's desire is seen as the first and second causes: and is in 
imagination refracted from the Queen to Ophelia and back again 
till both are sacrificed. 

6. The Ghost, plus the idea of infidelity in the world of the court, 
from bed to arras, emphasize the total distortion of the world. 
'Change or insecurity, seen without reference to some stable 
principle, becomes terrible and sensational.' 2 

7. Against these is set the Renaissance world, with its ideal of the 
prince, governed by reason, master of all excellencies, yet as man 
allowed the licences proper to his position in the hierarchy. 

1 iv. xm. 73. 2 Howard Baker, Induction to Tragedy, p. 206. 


8. 'In Hamlet there is not fatalism, but good Christian doctrine, 
somewhat coloured by Neo-Stoicism.' 1 

The 'linkage' to our own world (for we need not distance ourselves 
unduly, or to the point at which it might seem 'an artistic failure') 
perhaps includes some or all of the following: 

1. The common experience of hostility to the father-substitute. 2 

2. Frustration through a new set of circumstances that debar the 
individual from power. 

3. Sexual frustration turning to bitterness through the Ophelia- 
Gertrude situation. 

4. The fear and irritation caused when intense intellectual and 
critical activity confronts a stupid but solidified social front. 

5. The oscillating moods, between depression and excited exulta- 
tion, which grow from such a mind in its attempt to penetrate 
the known false appearances of things. 

6. The tensions set up in the mind when complicated and obscure 
situations have to be solved through action under pressure of time. 3 

7. The prevalence of the type of the 'malcontent', admirably 
summed up by Stoll: 'His meditations on the processes and trans- 
formations of life and death, as in the grave-yard, his indecency 
with women, his doggerel and snatches of old ballads allusively 
and derisively used, his jeering, mimicry, and gibberish, his abrupt 
enigmas, his quick and gruesome misinterpretations of the words 
of others these have, of course, nothing necessarily to do with 
the "humour" of the physiologists/ 4 

8. The view of Hamlet himself as a 'hero' in the mythological sense: 
the call to the adventure of revenge, the series of 'tricks' in the 
plots against him, Ophelia's betrayal, the players' arrival, the 
pirate ship: the appeasement of the ghost, his own apotheosis. 

As Hamlet is the most complex form of the Shakespearian synthesis, 
so the Historical plays afford the most convenient examples of tragic 

1 v. C. F.Johnson, Shakespeare Quarterly, July 1952, pp. 187 ff. 

* We need not agree fully with the Freud-Beaumont-Ernst Jones theories; but F. L. 
Lucas has shown convincingly the prevalence of the son-mother-stepfather conflict. 

1 We tend, perhaps, to lose sight of the accelerating factors that force Hamlet into 
action, though critics have repeatedly noted the sense of relief after the episode with the 
pirate ship. And such a relief when thought is translated into action by circumstances is a 
commonplace of psychological case-histories. 

4 E. E. Stoll, Hamlet the Man, p 5 (English Assoc. Pamphlet No 91) 


simplicity. It is because of their simplicity that we have not, perhaps, 
paid sufficient attention to the tragic qualities of, say, the Henry VI 
cycle, Richard II and HI, and possibly King John. For the historical 
tragedy had to the Elizabethans a continuous and pressing relevance to 
their own affairs. So long as the great nobles grew unhindered the fear 
of rebellion was constant. The holder of the crown, his powers and 
obligations, were still a subject of debate, and were to remain so for 
another century; whether the King was, in fact, a 'histrionic young 
tyrant' or 

The Deputy elected by the Lord. 

One thing was certain: that the fall of the monarch led to the fall or at 
least the confusion of the State; the broken hierarchy might be sym- 
bolized by the Garden at Langley, presaged by signs in the heavens. 
And in his elevation the King's sin surrounded him, Fury-like, to wake 
to the pursuit when Richard Ill's sleep could no longer restore that 
ferocious energy, or when Henry IV woke to find his son trying on 
the crown. The plays show the working of Nemesis, single or com- 
plex, 1 in obedience to a simple morality that is plainly Christian, yet 
which retains traces of the medieval Wheel. In the trajectories of 
Princes, whatever the duration and height, there is a profound sense 
of a pattern in life which is related (at opposite ends of the scale) to the 
path of the Hero-God and to the rise, maturity and decay of the 
common man. 

Of these tragedies there arc two main groups of spectators, the 
women and the common people. The women move a little apart, 
sometimes to rail, sometimes to loose the terrible weapon of the curse 
(one of the many emotional agents that a modern audience is unable 
to assess) but most often to weep. At times they shed a strange glow 
upon the main characters, as does Richard II's Queen: 

. . . thou most beauteous inn, 
Why should hard-favour'd grief be lodged in thcc, 
When triumph is become an alehouse guest? 2 

The Histories are of special interest as tragic exempla showing the 
elements of Shakespeare's mature tragedy which they lack within a 
chronicle framework, the tradition of the chronicle play with a serious 

1 R. G. Moulton's analysis of the plot of Richard III has become a classic. (Shakespeare 
as a Dramatic Artist ) 
* v. i. 13. 


theme and a strong interfusion of the morality. Figures such as 
Henry VI and Richard III are conventional in their clear-cut repre- 
sentation of their absolute good and evil, products of the traditional 
philosophy of kingship overlaid upon Holinshed and More. Richard HI 
is the perfect example of fear and admiration in a simple blended 
response; the gaiety, intellectual energy, and cynical rejection of all 
morality suggest that an audience is prepared to respond liberally to 
heroic villainy to just the point at which crime becomes unrelated to 
the political objective. This point is the murder of the princes in the 
Tower. Nor is there enough evidence to suggest an internal conflict 
of the kind that arouses sympathy in Macbeth, and which invites that 
sympathy by an awareness of metaphysical issues beyond the action 
of the play. Only Richard II presents a complex study of perennial 
interest; that is, the relationship of the act to the word, and how the 
sheer conditioning to kingship (for Richard had been on the throne 
since the age of ten, and could never forget that dramatic moment in 
which his appearance and an impulsive, perfectly-timed word dispelled 
rebellion) leads to this inextricable confusion between the emotion, the 
word, the act. The tendrils of the imagery intertwine, luxuriate, in 
antithesis and in puns, these last the sign that the word has taken charge 
of the intelligence. In this there is a shadow of Hamlet; the need to 
unpack the heart causes the whole character to oscillate dangerously on 
the pivot of 'brave and glorious words', that may so easily decline into 

For self-pity, perhaps the commonest of the vices that link the 
spectator to the tragedy, is seen, in a greater or less degree, in the 
majority of tragic heroes. There are, no doubt, purely dramatic con- 
siderations that determine why it should be so. The last speech from 
the scaffold is an enduring tradition, and the spectator will always be 
curious as to such messages. They are the necessary epilogue before the 
page is turned and the new men take over. There is the immemorial 
tradition of reverence for the dying hero-god, though the other 
protagonists may have been the agents of his death; his death is a 
ritual becoming, a benediction handed on. And he demands this last 
office from the spectators, the chorus of lesser men. 

What would the hero of tragedy do without these weeping, appreciating 
and revering spectators? This necessity of pity from the lesser men who keep 
the law for the greater men who break it out of an inner necessity is the 
symbol of an unresolved conflict in the heart of Greek tragedy. It does not 
know where the real centre of life lies, whether in its law or in its vitality. 


Therefore the weak law-abiders must honour the strong law-breakers, lest 
the latter seem dishonourable. 1 

It is in Henry IV and Henry V that the concept of kingship broadens 
out, though into more shallow and winding channels of related inten- 
tion than the tragic effect can tolerate. But the King, besides being, 
by implication, 2 the ideal aristocrat, temperate, wise, governed and 
governing by reason, is now asserting his own humanity; the question- 
ing of kingly ceremony, the critical assessment of father by son, the 
attempt to probe the mind of the subject, the weariness of responsi- 
bility, the final torment of sleep withheld. To forge this link between 
the audience and an idea of a patriotic, vigorous monarch, who was 
master at once of the book of the people and of the rhetoric of politics 
and war, was a supreme effort to solidify that slowly disintegrating 
concept. Perhaps the problems of the contemporary situation were too 
close for consistency of character and concentration of dramatic effect. 

We are then confronted in Shakespeare's tragedy with a world in 
which his conception of the form, its genesis and its consequences, 
turns steadily inwards, increasing in complexity, probing the mystery 
of the individual, and perhaps recoiling at the last (if Timon be indeed 
the last of the tragedies) before his own inability to go deeper with- 
out paying a Swiftian penalty. Perhaps the two last abstracts are the 
problem of disloyalty (in three degrees) in Coriolanus, and the problem 
of ingratitude, itself a form of un-naturc, in Timon. Within this 
framework we may suggest certain general propositions. 

1. His ideal world is one of order. Evil, whatever its genesis, has for 
its immediate result a distortion of that order. 

2. His tragedy follows, adheres to, traditional values in the medieval 
tradition. They are Christian in so far as the two coincide, or even 

3. It is concerned with characters 'to whom it is proper to do 
honour': whether through birthright or achievement. 

4. Only through such characters can the exempla be made plain, 

(a) it is through their stature that their doings have a large 

1 Remhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy, p. 165. 

2 e.g. /. //. IV. ii. 11. 126. 


(b) the mirror or contrast work which gives depth can only be 
shown in lower, not higher planes, 

(r) evil generated in them can be perceived more clearly in 
contrast with their nobility, yet in more intense and 
intricate conflict with their proper virtues. 

5. The evil generated in the Shakespearian world is directly the 
consequence of sin: readily perceived in terms of the traditional 
theology of the age. 

6. In sin * there is an element which we may call * 'unripeness"; man's 
attempt to pluck flower or fruit before its season, to forestall the 
natural maturity of man, woman or event. Once we attempt to 
overleap the time-process, disaster follows: for it is implicit in 
time that, once scorned, he takes revenge by appearing to distort 
all human planning by a series of ' just-too-late" events/ * 

7. As with all evil its self-propagation, its immeasurable and un- 
predictable resurrection from past to present, its apparent 
arbitrariness in operation, is imaged mirror on mirror. But this 
is no reason to deny Shakespeare a background of morality, or to 
call his world one of undecided conflicts, or to perceive in it a 
sheer division of the ethical substance. 

The emergence of evil through personality into action is die theme 
of tragedy. How and under what stimulus it emerges, its immensely 
complicated reactions upon the individual soul, its rapid and violent 
infection of the most remote and improbable lives is not to be argued 
in the metaphysics of the tragic writer. In the exaltation and resolution 
of death, in the intermediate confrontings of the mystery, the dramatist 
is under no more obligation than the poet. He can do no more than 
convey to us, even Tor one throb of the artery', the conviction of a 
unity and a pattern. We may remember Melville's words: 

. . . those deep faraway things 111 him ; those occasional flashings-forth of 
the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probmgs at the very axis of 
reality; these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare. 2 

1 Cf. L. A. G. Strong, The Sacred River, especially Ch IV. Impatience with tmie may 
become a neurotic obsession hence the repeated injunctions to the effect that 'Ripeness is 
all', and the long penalties, even in comedy, for hasty action. 

2 W. E. Sedgwick, Herman Melville, p. 85. 


The Marble Altar 

There is no 'mystery' in Racine that is to say, there are no metaphysical 
speculations in him, no suggestions of the transcendental, no hints as to the 
ultimate nature of reality and the constitution of the world . . . The more we 
examine Racine, the more clearly we shall discern in him another kind of 
mystery . . . the mystery of the mind of man Look where we will, we 
shall find among his pages the traces of an inward mystery and the obscure 
infinities of the heart. 



'THE marble altar of Racine'; the phrase is from an essay by K L. 
Lucas. In French Classical Tragedy we are confronted with a world 
which is, in many ways, unique. The plays are constructed with an 
architectural symmetry, and possess something of the serenity of a 
landscape by Claude, where column and architrave, erect or in ruins, 
convey a mood at once exalted, and sorrowful, and serene. In the 
Preface to Berenice Racine himself spoke of 'the experience of majestic 
sadness in which the whole pleasure of tragedy resides'. 

It is a tragic world bounded by many conventions; the neo-Classic 
rules impose their selective intensity of a moment, and offer no 
challenge to the transcendental world. It is a tragic theatre which is 
highly-wrought, based on a consummate rhetorical tradition in which 
the sheer virtuosity of verse composition acquires, seemingly without 
effort, a peculiar spontaneity of its own. It is an art judged by its 
civilized qualities, its 'finesses', delicate and strong, rooted in a world 
where reason and rule, though always ready to be transcended by 
genius, are themselves unquestioned. It cannot make use of the lyric, 
though lyrical functions are perceptible in the impetus and exaltation 
of many of the set speeches. It sets out to be universal and therefore 
must not employ the material of contemporary history. Arnold's 'great 
actions', brought into focus and made significant through distance, 
time and their quasi-sanctity as universals, form the groundwork of 
tragedy. The great mutations of the world arc set against backgrounds 
that also are like the landscapes of Claude; luminous with Italian light, 

1 Books and Characters, p. 16. 


grave and dignified with vast monumental architecture. The scene is 
almost invariably the terrace of a palace; the characters cross and 
re-cross the world on their related travels, while the centre of rule and 
of policy remains. Like Poussin, the dramatists draw their attitudes to 
life and death from the Greco-Roman scene. Their values are in part 
determined by the heroic world, since their empire and their peace 
had been built on foreign wars under Louis XIII and Louis XIV: 
and this marched well enough with the Homeric scale of conflict, the 
nobility, passion and dignity of man. In death the underworld or the 
darkness of a pagan ending symbolizes well enough (without challeng- 
ing the Church) the uneasiness, stoicism, pathos, that they had learned 
from Bossuet's Oraisons Funebres. And because this tragic art is above 
all 'serious* in Arnold's sense, it admits no relief, no grotesque, no 
fantasy. Its sense of the numinous is poised, as it were, on a delicate 
pivot between the classical and Christian worlds, its virtues regulated 
in accordance with what those worlds might, to a reasonable man, be 
thought to possess in common. 

The system of tensions demands, often, a diamond-shaped figure 
with four protagonists, two men and two women, of differing stature, 
with their counsellors or confidants about them; Dry den imposed a 
similar pattern in his re-writing of Antony and Cleopatra. Such a system 
is seen at its clearest in Andromaque, initially cyclic in character, with 
the catastrophe cutting, as it were, across the diameter of the circle. 
Oreste is in love with Hermione, who is in love with Pyrrhus, who is 
in love with Andromaque, who is faithful to the memory of her dead 
husband, Hector; but she, with her son Astyanax, is in the power of 
Pyrrhus. But Hermione is the affianced of Pyrrhus, and state policy 
requires that he should marry her. Oreste, as an official envoy, is under 
orders to arrange the marriage, and this in turn cuts athwart his own 
love for Hermione. The tensions snap when Pyrrhus is murdered by 
Oreste, at Hermione's instigation: and, having persuaded her love to 
this murder, she then turns against him. 

In Eunice the pattern is even simpler 'tragedy wrought to its 
uttermost'. Antiochus is in love with Berenice, who is in love with 
Titus, and he with her; Antiochus and Titus are united by their friend- 
ship. Titus is about to be crowned Emperor of Rome; he would then 
naturally marry Berenice were it not that the Roman Senate may 
forbid the marriage of their emperor to a foreign queen. They do 
forbid it, and the tragic setting, now sharply triangular in structure, is 


It is a world that has its existence under the shadow of a literal 
invocation of Aristotle, 1 supported by a rigid conception of aristocracy 
and by the conventions which that aristocracy had built for self- 
justification. In the society which Racine transposes to a Greek or 
Roman or Old Testament setting, the privileges of birth are all- 
important. When they are compared with the subsidiary figures the 
princes and princesses show a sensibility, delicacy of mind and speed 
of perception that diminishes steadily as we descend the social scale. 
They are conscious of themselves, and of their actions, as exempla in 
the stream of history; just as Shakespeare's Roman world speaks 
proudly to posterity. 

Adieu, servons nous tous d'example a I'univers. 

There are other qualities that we must consider. Because Racine is 
under the double constraint of the Unities and of plots that have their 
strong framework in the past, the net is tightly drawn about the 
characters; the circle is already narrowing when the play begins, 
though it is not until the catastrophe that the characters realize that the 
last possible hole for escape is blocked. Racine even apologizes for his 
departure from the plot of Euripides in relation to the character of 

J'ai meme pris soin de la rendre un pcu nioins odicuse qu'cllc n'est dans les 
tragedies dcs ancieiis, ou elle se resout d'elle-meme a accuser Hippolyte. J'ai 
cru quc la calomnie avait quelque chose de trop bas ct de trop noir pour la 
mcttre dans la bouche d'une princesse qui a d'adleurs des sentiments si 
nobles et si vertueux. Cette bassesse tnaparu plus convenable & une nourrice, qui 
pouvait avoir des inclinations plus serviles, et qui neanmoins n'entreprend cette 
fausse accusation que pour sauver la vie ct Thonneur de sa maitresse. Phedre 
n'y donne les mains que parcequ'elle est dans une agitation d'esprit qui la 
met hors d'elle-meme; et elle vient un moment apres dans le dessein de 
justifier 1* innocence et de declarer la verite*. 2 

This extract has several points of interest. The great protagonists, in 
whatever net of evil they are entangled, have these sentiments 'si nobles 
et si vertueux'. Phedre's horror, that allows her to lean for a moment 
on the accusation of the Nurse, is perceived as a momentary thing. 

In the background is the eternal dualism; the position of the Reason 

confronted with emotion; honour, duty, friendship, policy, set against 

Venus and her prey. In the curiously neutral world of Racine's creation, 

which is neither Roman nor Greek nor French, this sensual urge, 

1 Cf. the first Preface to Andromaque. f Preface to Phidrc. 


heightened to the utmost nobility by the stride of the rhythm and 
the clarity of the language, dominates the characters. It is at once a 
curse, a punishment for an unknown sin, and a disease. It ebbs and 
flows by the moon, and Racine as a trained observer marks its course 
with almost unfailing insight. Andromaquc, Roxane, Clytemnestra, 
Phcdre, are all victims: 

Je reconnus Venus ct ses fcux rcdoutables 

D'un sang qu'elle poursuit tourmcntes inevitables... 

So again in the Preface: 

En effet, Phedrc n'cst ni tout a fait coupable, ni tout a fait mnocente: clle 
est engagec, par sa destinec ct par la colere des dicux, dans une passion 
illegitimc, dont clle a horreur toute la premiere... 

Racine, as a pupil of Port-Royal, is said to have held the doctrine of 
predestination, fitting well enough with Euripides* perception of the 
insensate wrath of a goddess. But adds to Phedrc torments by jealousy, 
making Hippolyte in love with Aricie, the gentle timid girl; one of 
several such who arc confronted with mature women, clear-sighted yet 
in the grasp of these terrible passions, which they know yet do not 
understand. Theramene, typical of many virtuous confidants, is the 
punctum indijfcrens of the play. 

The situation of these characters is exacerbated through the con- 
ditions of their lives. They are public figures; their love or marriage has 
political consequences. Against the pomp of the courts this wild 
irrational impulse, this joyless yet obsessive desire, lights up both itself 
and the reason and ceremony that oppose it. In their conduct two 
dominant emotions are called into play in Racine's audience: the 
potential tendresse of woman, 1 the ceremony and virtus of man, the 
peculiar dignified relationship to the confidants who are so vital to 
the pace and rhythm of the play. The men move between their Roman 
thoughts, an elegiac sadness at their own position, and perhaps a 
certain bewilderment before the subtlety and swiftly-changing moods 
of their women. 

Love, friendship, duty; but it would be wrong to suppose that these 
are the only boundaries of Racine's world. Britannicus is a play of 
intrigue, mother against son, a study of villainy and poison: Agrippina 
has poisoned her second husband so that Nero shall become Emperor. 
She realizes when it is too late that Nero will not remain her puppet, 

1 Which, as an aspect of the Life-Force, is so readily converted into other forms of 


and allies herself with Britannicus. Between the three stands the 
Princess Junie, desired by Britannicus and Nero: again the diamond- 
shaped structure of two women and two men, with the two coun- 
sellors, Burrhus and Narcisse, who (like the Good and Bad Angels 
in Dr Faustus) serve to make clear the oscillations in Nero's mind. 
Innocence and youth is confronted by a kind of tigress- woman; a 
character which, perhaps more than any of Racine's characters, lives 
throughout endless dramatic incarnations; her own recognition and 
reversal is one of the most dramatic moments of the play: 

Agrippina. Ah! ciel! de mes soup^ons qu'ellc <5tait Pmjusticc! 
Je condamnais Burrhus pour ccoutcr Narcisse! 
Burrhus, avcz-vous vu quels regards furieux 
Ncron en me quittant m'a laisse's pour adieux^ 
C'en est fait, le cruel n'a plus rien qui Tarretc; 
Le coup qu'on m'a pre*dit va tomber sur rna tete. 
Il vous accablcra vous meme a votre tour. 

Burrhtts. Ah, madame! pour moij'ai vecu crop d'un jour. 1 

But it is the verse that is the special glory of Racine, the instrument 
by which he can isolate, clarify, focus the distinctive tragic emotion. 
The French Alexandrine is unlike any other metre; it is at once formal 
and flexible, ritualistic and rhetorical. Caesura and rhyme give the 
thing said the credibility, the finality of achievement that is so cleanly- 
cut that no alternative is possible but to believe it true. When it is 
merely used for exposition it can roll along with scarcely a hint of its 
own severe discipline; it can be broken (yet with the components still 
fitting perfectly) into staccato dialogue; and it can carry, in Racine's 
hands, the extremity of passion. Hermione's outburst against Oreste, 
when she learns that he has murdered Pyrrhus at her instigation, is 
well known: but will serve to illustrate something of the range of the 

Oreste. ...Vous seule avez pousse les coups... 

Hermione. Tais-toi, perfide, 

Et n'nnputc qu'a toi ton lachc parricide. 

Va faire chcz les Grecs admirer ta fureur, 

Va: je la desavoue, ct tu me fais horreur. 

Barbare , qu'as tu fait! Avec quclle furie 

As-tu tranche* le cours d'une si belle vie! 

X V,7. 


Avez-vous pu, cruels, Timmoler aujourd'hui, 

Sans que tout votre sang se soulevat pour lui! 

Mais parle: de son sort qui t'a rendu 1'arbitre? 

Pourquoi 1'assassiner? Qu'a-t-il fait? A qucl titre? 

Qui te 1'a dit? 
Oreste. O Dieux ! Quoi ! ne m'avez-vous pas 

Vous-meme, ici, tantot, ordonne* son tre*pas? 
Hermione. Ah! fallait-il en croire une amante insense*e? 

Ne devais tu pas lire au fond dc ma pensee? 

Et ne voyais-tu pas, dans mes emportements, 

Que ma cocur dtfmentait ma bouche a tous moments? . . .* 

At the opening of the scene Oreste has announced his deed: it is a 
species of sacrifice on the altar; a worthy deed and one that will win 
the woman whom he worships. 

Pyrrhus rend a 1'autel son infidele vie. 2 

And now in his bewilderment he is faced with Hcrmione's rage, and 
the superbly evasive turnings of the feminine mind. The tirade over- 
whelms him: the words as they lock into place in the rhymes, or fall 
so easily into their stride in the rhythm, seem to gather and convey a 
vicious compact load of meaning: parricide, tranche \ immoler, I'arbitre. 
It is a common technique of woman in anger, this defence by attack, 
with dull-witted man helpless before it. Then, convicted, she falls 
back on a second line: Oreste should have known her thoughts; she 
should have been left to carry out her own revenge; he has brought to 
her presence the very misfortunes that are his curse. And as the rapid- 
fire of words goes on there comes the half-truth that lies behind all this 

II m'aimerait peut-etre... 

By now, in her mind, Oreste has become a monster. And, in a sense it 
is true. In the soliloquy which follows on Hermione's exit he realizes 
that he has violated reason: 

...Je suis, si je Ten crois, un traitre, un assassin. 
Est-ce que Pyrrhus qui meurt? et suis-je Oreste enfin? 
Quoilj'Aouffe en won cceur la raison qui m'Maire\ 
J'assine a regret un roi que je reVere; 
Je viole en un jour les droits de souverains, 
Ceux des ambassadeurs, et tous ceux des humains... 3 

1 Andromaquc, V, 3. Ibid. * Ibid., V, 4. 


Reason has been violated; all rationalizations are torn away. And it is 
all done so easily through a rhetoric that does not rely on the blaze 
of imagery but upon its own close-packed sinewy strength. 

The Ilia d and the Aeneid lie close behind this verse. To such audiences 
the classical tradition of education provided a close link with the 
dramatists; and unlimited opportunities for evoking that momentous 
past. Sometimes it is done simply, almost with a word: 

Favorablcs perils! Espdrance inutile! 

N'as-tu pas vu sa gloire, et le trouble d'Achille? l 

Un voile d'amitie vous trompe Tun ct 1'autfe, 
Et mon amour devint le confident du votre . 
Mais toujours quclque cspoir flattait mcs dcplaisirs: 
Rome, Vespasien traversaient vos soupirs... 2 

And when we see the plays against the tapestry of history, the whole 
conception of la gloire falls into place. The Roman thoughts do not 
strike these characters; they are always with them. 


The values suggested by Racine's work are, from the point of view 
of this study, more difficult to determine. It is probable that he himself 
would regard the tragedies as didactic in character: 

Ce que je puis assurer, c'est que je n'en ai point fait ou la vertu soit plus 
inise en jour que dans celle-ci; les moindres fautes y sont severement punies; 
la scule pense'e du crime y est regardee avec autant d'horreur que le crime 
meme; les faiblesses de 1'amour y passent pour de vraies faiblesses; les passions 
n'y sont presdntees aux yeux que pour montrer tout le de*sordre dont elles 
sont cause; et le vice y est point partout avec des couleurs qui en fait con- 
naitre et hair la difformite. CW Ib proprement le but que tout hotnme qui 
travaille pour le public doit se proposer, et c'est ce que les premiers poetes 
tragiques avaient en vue sur toute chose. Leur theatre e*tait une e*cole ou 
la vertu n'e'tait pas moins bien enscigne'e que dans les e*coles des philosophes. 8 

We may, no doubt, discount some part of the apology for Phedre as 
a concession to the contemporary attacks on the theatre; yet it represents 
fairly the standard neo-Classic view. It would be impossible to justify 
it in any more profound system. We must therefore endeavour to stand 
away from the vast canvas of the plays. 

Our main interest lies in the concept of reason in perpetual and 

1 Iphietnic, IV, i. * BMnice, I, 4. 

8 Preface to Phldre. Compare the tone of Sidney's Apohgie. 


varied collision with that human emotion called (for convenience) 
love. The sharpness of the conflict, the assumption by dramatist and 
audience that, ultimately, the power and Tightness of reason was un- 
questioned and unquestionable, belongs to a static society whose 
hierarchical and moral values were for the moment solidified: whatever 
aberrations, social and moral, might appear in practical life. 1 Such a 
society is well fitted to approve a tragedy which is idealized, concen- 
trated, the mirror of its own highest aspirations perceived in alignment 
with a Cartesian world of reason, with the Roman and Greek Fates, 
and with a Jansenist sense of predestination. It sees itself, in some 
measure, as the civilized pupil at the feet of classical history and myth; 
translating that situation into a kind of neutral, remote world yet one 
that, like the innumerable steel engravings of its artists, represented for 
it a special kind of reality. 

That reality is unquestioned, unchanging. Its characters are doubly 
predestined; once by the fable, once or more by the ancient dramatists 
who have imposed form upon it. Within that framework the char- 
acters are free, not to attempt a breach in the net of destiny; but to 
watch the movements of their own minds, to follow and to express the 
alternations of love, hope, anger, frustration, despair. At the roots are 
a theoretical Reason that, untrammelled, can provide the answer to the 
riddle; and a human nature, also constant in its broad characteristics as 
perceived in history, but confronting its destiny with a range of 
emotions proper to its station and tradition. 

The negative aspects are clear. The lower-level characters (there are 
no 'low' ones) are puppets, their sensibilities modulated to the brilliance 
of the main protagonists. There is little or no imagery, little that pro- 
vides extension or depth of meaning; there is no reconciliation, only 
suffering, stoicism or death. The pagan characters adhere rigidly to their 
proprieties: Christianity never intrudes into Racine's world. And it is 
a strangely joy less one; there is only a peculiar kind of exaltation, that 
is largely aesthetic in character, at this superb ordering, insight, and 
sheer concentration of passion. 

It would not be true to say that this is a tragedy of ideas, though the 
plots are distilled to this fine essence; for character is within the given 
limits differentiated and full. But it does stand for this dichotomy 
perceived in a manner whose links with reality are of the mind; trans- 
lated with difficulty into common experience; breaking easily into the 

1 e.g. the endless scandals, themselves microcosmic examples of human irrationality, 
at the Court of Loius XIV. 


ridiculous or sentimental if we do not hold closely to its conventions, 
and to the whole concept of baroque tragedy. 

In the last resort it is valuable that the human mind should be directed 
repeatedly to the elemental qualities of its moral law, even though these 
should be set forth in the name of 'reason'. It is valuable that the 
irrationality of love (even though the characters who languish and die 
for it seem now unduly sentimental) should be presented in its naked- 
ness as the origin of crime, frustration, and despair; for it may bring 
us to a recognition, because of the very absorption of the characters in 
that passion, and their half-disavowal of responsibility, of our own vice 
of attributing it to heredity, environment (which arc no more than 
symbols of the insensate fury of the gods), rather than to ourselves. 
In this tragedy the ideas that lie at its core arc drawn from the Hebrew, 
Greek and Roman thought; components of Christianity, but not 
Christian; since it does not know in full the depths of humility and 
compassion or reconciliation. For we can perceive in Racine's plays 
tins clarified and ordered statement however limited of the elemental 
human situation: the evil that I would not, that I do; the good that I 
would, that I do not. And neither the tirades, nor those stiff figures in 
brocaded robes, nor the heavy atmosphere of court and drawing-room, 
can cloak the power of this knowledge. 


A Note on Ibsen 

. . . How far is the scheme of Ibsen's drama, the design as apart from the 
execution of it, compatible with the highest ends at which tragedy can aim? 
Are not his details overloaded, his themes depressing, his characters too 
persistently lacking in the nobler, the more heroic qualities without which 
our sympathies remain cold? 


His greatness lies in the fact that, denied the elevated themes of theo- 
machies and dynastic struggles, the stature of heroes and princes, and the 
language of poets, he yet continues by means minute yet evocative to 
suggest in drama, beneath the familiar prosaicness of modern life, the 
perpetual mystery of human personality in its struggle with necessity. 


THE turmoil of indignation that greeted Ibsen's plays, particularly 
A Doll's House and Ghosts, has long since died down; partly because the 
New Woman of Shavianism is no longer a controversial figure, partly 
because inherited disease has been recognized as an open and most 
serious problem, and partly because he has ceased to be regarded as the 
exponent of any particular iconoclasms or as a propagandist for a new 
morality. Time has set him clearly in perspective against a political and 
social background, and recognized him as the inheritor of certain 
philosophical ideas, in particular those of Kierkegaard and Schopen- 
hauer. 3 We are now aware of 'Scandinavianism' and the threats to 
Norwegian nationalism which were such burning questions in the 
middle of the nineteenth century; a sense of bitterness and frustration 
at national ineffectiveness, corruption and muddle-headedness; a fairy- 
romanticism that had been born of Norwegian ballad and folklore; 
and a strong personal sense of guilt and bitterness, relieved initially by 
the temperament and equipment of a considerable poetic talent, 4 and 
later by a mordant sense of humour. His Norway is the scene of a 
violent conflict between liberal idealism and a regressive conservatism, 

1 Types of Tragic Drama, pp. 269-70. 
* Ibsen's Dramatic Technique, p. 220. 

3 See, in general, B. W. Downs, Ibsen: the Intellectual Background. 

4 Sec, in particular, the chapter on The Poet in Dr M. C. Bradbrook's Ibsen. 



accentuated by a relatively classless society; and of a conflict between 
the teachings of the orthodox church and the coldly-rising flood of 
nineteenth-century criticism: both conditioned by a fear on the part 
of established authority of opinions in almost every sphere of national 
activity that might be termed 'subversive*. All in all, the time and place 
provided a situation of conflict, nationalism and general evolutionary 
problems that suggests comparisons with Tudor and Stuart England, 
and with nineteenth-century Ireland. A personal 'heroic* romanticism 
in his youth, an illegitimate child, a strong sense of personal guilt, and 
a power to exacerbate popular sentiment, may serve to carry resem- 
blance a stage further. We are now aware of an Ibsen who is far from 
the sordid realist of earlier artificial portraits, something much greater 
than 'the clinical analyst at the bedside of society*, and a personality far 
more complex than Shaw*s Quintessence of Ibsenism would seem to 
suggest. He is revealed as a technician of great subtlety and distinction, 
building his effects out of minute attention to detail, yet retaining a 
broad and tightly-jointed structure; a writer with a strong discipline of 
his own, made more unyielding by a Calvinistic sense of guilt. We 
are aware, too, of an impish sense of humour, perhaps best seen in 
Love's Comedy or in his remark to Georg Brandes: 'Now you go home 
to provoke the Danes, while I stay at home to annoy the Norwegians.* l 
We can afford to contemplate Clement Scott, and the Daily Telegraph 
of the eighties, with a detached amusement. 

Ibsen's world is of the Middle Classes, unrelieved by any contact 
with workman or noble, and only occasionally concerned with the 
Saint or Fool. Minor officials, journalists, bankers, writers, sculptors, 
ineffectual clergymen, local politicians, arc the new tragic material; the 
choruses arc drawn from cynics, idealists, and the compact conservative 
majority or the less compact liberal minority. The earlier plays The 
Feastings at Solhoug or Vikings at Helgeland will serve as examples 
suggest that youthful dramatists assume something like a heroic mantle 
or mask: which is later discarded, but which leaves an emotional 
impetus that finds expression in a strong sense of the irrational, and at 
times the supra-natural, in his dramatic world. 

Characters of the new tragedy have, in themselves, no a priori interest 
arising from their station in life; the dramatist must re-create an interest 
both in their past and, through some 'recoguitiona!' bond with the 

1 Quoted Downs, op. cit., p. 139. 


audience, 1 a sympathy with the intricacies of character. Such characters 
will not speak poetry, and the resources of rhetoric are usually given 
to them only to be deflated in the Shavian manner. The burden on the 
characters is usually separated from the mystery, which is thrown back, 
as it were, to adumbrations of the supra-natural, the operations of 
something like Greek Destiny, or the compulsive indeterminacy of 
symbolism. It is through such devices that Ibsen makes credible the 
irrational or mystical impulses in human nature, the desire for revenge, 
atonement, self-sacrifice. The pattern gains its> momentum from the 
spiral or repeating pattern, the interaction of past and present. 

An attempt to assess Ibsen's tragedy must take account of his own 
development, as well as the balance which he maintained by reason of 
his own implication in the Norwegian social and political scene, and 
his deliberate reversal of popular deductions as to the 'moral*. An 
Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, and Rosmersholm are, in a sense, 
conflicting studies of idealism; just as Nora Helnier, 'the woman who 
left', is balanced by Mrs Alving of Ghosts, who stayed to do her duty. 
It is therefore best to consider those plays which arc least dependent 
on local and contemporary conditions; and first to isolate, as far as 
possible, Ibsen's apparent 'themes'. These appear to be seven in number: 

1. The relationship of man to woman, in love, incest, 2 marriage. 

2. The relationship of woman to her social and economic setting. 

3. The claims of idealism as a guide to practical living. 

4. The nature of Christianity: both absolutely and as an evolutionary 

5. Individual vs. collective crime and punishment; including the 
problems of heredity. 

6. The impact of the non-rational whether supro-natural or 
psychological upon character in action. 

7. What is reality? 

More than one question is always treated in each play. Tone and 
setting are usually given by the title: sometimes with subtlety as in 
Ghosts or John Gabriel Borkman* sometimes with such emphasis as in 

1 Cf. the endless discussions as to the 'probability' of such characters as Nora Helmer; 
and 'As for Hedda Gabler, I take her in to dinner twice a week.' In general it seems likely 
that a considerable amount of 'guilt-identification', more than we are usually prepared 
to admit, takes place in the theatre. 

* e.g. Ghosts, Rosmersholm. 

* As suggesting the dual personality of the hero. John Borkman the practical business 
man, and Gabriel the angelic component. 


The Wild Duck that the recurrence of the symbolism grows weari- 
some. (It seems, in fact, that the symbol, to be effective, must not be 
burdened with conscious multiple meanings; and is best left to expand, 
as it were, in space.) But the 'themes' are, in any scale of values, central 
to humanity. The problem in evaluating Ibsen as a tragedian might 
appear to involve an answer to the following questions: 

1. Does Ibsen as a tragic artist achieve a balance as Shaw does not 
between the 'theme* and its dramatic presentation? 

2. What elements in the plays (bearing in mind Vaughan's quotation 
at the head of this chapter) serve to replace the traditional require- 
ments, and to give the necessary universality? 

3. What value arc we to attach to the total response to this tragedy 
in view both of these traditional requirements, and of any new 
interpretation of such terms as katharsis that may be apparent from 


At the outset we may notice that Emperor and Galilean and Brand 
provide us with examples of the 'great' subjects, emperor and would-be 
saint, and that Ibsen considered the former his most important play. 
Both are, from different angles, attacks upon the conventional religious 
morality of Ibsen's time; in that conflict State interference seemed, in 
1872, to be a possibility, and we must perhaps go back to the English 
debates on Disestablishment to form any conception ot the back- 
ground. Further, the Hegelian theory of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis 
had impressed itself deeply upon Ibsen's mind. In Emperor and Galilean 
the hero, Prince Julian, reacts violently against the official religion of 
Constantinc, with its corruption and aimless ritual. Christianity has 
embodied and made decadent the beauty of paganism. Is a new 
synthesis not a 'Second Coming* a possibility? The claims of 
Emperor and Galilean are irreconcilable: 

Yes, this Jesus Christ is the greatest rebel that ever lived. What was 
Brutus what was Cassius compared with him? They murdered only the 
man Julius Caesar; but he murders all that is called Caesar and Augustus. Is 
peace conceivable between the Galilean and the Emperor? Is there room for 
the two of them together upon the earth? For he lives upon the earth, 
Maximus the Galilean lives, I say, however thoroughly both Jews and 
Romans imagined they had killed him; he lives in the rebellious minds of 
men; he lives in their scorn and defiance of all visible authority . . .* 

1 Archer, p. 369. 


The dramatic answer is that both Emperor and Galilean shall one 
day be replaced by 'the right man* (a shadow, perhaps of Nietzsche's 
Superman): but 

You solve the riddle by a still darker riddle. 1 

Nor does the ghost of Judas Iscariot contribute anything to a solution; 
the 'empire' will be established by 'the way of freedom', which is 
'the way of necessity', by the 'power of willing* 'what man must'. 

Emperor and Galilean is an unsatisfactory and uneven play. Its moral 
as tragedy is that a tragedy of too grandiose a scale is bound to fail; 
that the machinery such as the spirit-raising scene is never more 
than machinery, for there is no poetry to help us in the willing suspen- 
sion of disbelief; and that the play shows throughout no understanding 
of the Christian position. In it the individual is swamped by ideas. 
Maximus the Mystic is a kind of commentator on the action: 

Your God is a spendthrift God, Galileans! He wears out many souls! 
Wast thou not then, this time cither, the chosen one thou victim on the 
altar of necessity? What is it worth to live? All is sport and mockery. To 
will is to have to will! 2 

The ratiocination is trite and fragile. There seems to be a sort of 
Schopenhauer World- Will, not unlike Hardy's; the occasional out- 
bursts of the Dionysiac element are quite unconvincing. Emperor and 
Galilean is a colossal failure: its theme is entirely un-tragic in the terms 
in which Ibsen stated it. And we may think that the lack of any core 
of philosophy commensurate with the subject for Ibsen was at that 
stage in search of a faith are sufficient to account for this. 

Brand is, by contrast, a far more interesting exercise in tragedy; 
perhaps because it is v leu, whereas Emperor and Galilean was born of his 
brain only. It is also the single most important exposition of Kierke- 
gaard's philosophy in dramatic form. For Brand as a play centres on the 
absolute will of the hero, a will which stops at nothing in its efforts to 
achieve complete surrender to the will of God. The sheer power of will 
must subdue man's sinful nature, and that which he perceives to be 
sinful in others. A contempt for institutional religion, and for the 
general weakness, the lack of all conviction, in the parish which is a 
microcosm of Norway, makes this will loom even larger in Brand's 
1 Archer, p. 371. a Ibid., p. 479. 


own philosophy as the prime necessity. In order to fulfil himself his 
mother, child, and wife are in turn sacrificed; but no less than he 
sacrifices himself in his own epic attempt at self-conquest. 

Come, then, dullard souls who roam 
This my narrow valley home ! 
Man to man, in converse still, 
Trial of our work we make; 
Lies and half-truths fight, and wake 
The young lion of the will! l 

But the exercise of Brand's will, while it compels admiration, results 
in untold misery for mother, wife, parishioners. The only possible 
church is the Ice-Church in the mountains, the only possible ending 
the avalanche that overwhelms him. 

It is not a perfect tragedy, for it is unactable; it is not even a really 
great tragic poem. From any Christian standpoint Brand's God is still 
a ferocious Jehovah of the Old Testament, demanding not mercy but 
sacrifice. In Brand himself there is no humility, no sign of a search for 
grace; only a totalitarian religious fanaticism. Those account for its 
limiting and limited appeal. Within tins range, however, conflicting 
emotions arc brought into play preparatory to a tragic synthesis; pity 
and pathos, as in the Christmas scene with Agnes when Brand forces her 
to surrender the dead child's clothes. The countcrpointing is skilful; 
the opening scene of the lovers Einar and Agncta, with all its joy and 
energy, is broken when Agneta decides to follow Brand, and parodied 
when Einar becomes, as it were, a parody of Brand himself. But Ibsen 
is himself utterly blind to the Christian solution; the antitheses are too 
simple. Perhaps this is because there is in the poem so much of Ibsen 
himself; social and ecclesiastical propaganda, mainly diverted against 
the sin of sloth; the symbolism of the Troll-world for his own dual 
personality; and, we may suspect, some discharge of the scorpion's 
poison generated by his own family relationships. 'For I had a kind of 
imposthume in my brain that I did desire to be unladen of, and could 
imagine no fitter evacuation than this.' 

Image and symbol, in so far as they can be valued in translation, are 
vivid and appropriate up to a point. The comments of the mad girl, 
Gerd, her shooting of the mysterious eagle that turns out to be a dove, 
have been the object of much criticism. The ice-cavern, the voyage on 
the stormy fjord, the avalanche, are sufficiently clear: the hawk I take 

1 Everyman Edn , transl. F. E. Garrett, p. 68. 


to be the Law of the Old Testament that changes, too late, into the 
Spirit of the New, for just before Gerd kills it there is a moment when 
Brand seems to be on the verge of Christian salvation: 

Frost endures throughout the Law; 

Then the sunlight, then, the thaw! 

Till to-day, to be a white 

Tablet where God's hand could write 

Was the only aim I saw; 

From to-day, my life shall change; 

Warmth and richness in its range; 

Breaks the stillborn crust: to-day, 

I can weep, and kneel, and pray! l 

But it is too late; the avalanche started by Gcrd's shooting of the eagle 
overwhelms him; and the voice from the avalanche, 'God is Love', is 
dramatically effective in a superficial way but fails utterly to round the 

Both Ghosts and A Doll's House raise in an interesting manner the 
possibility of a modified interpretation of katharsis. In Brand the 
materials for it were available; his mind, in spite of its lyric quali- 
ties, was insufficient to compass it, and we may compare the end- 
ing with that of Samson Agonistes in this respect. In these two plays 
there is no attempt to round off the play, by death, resignation, or a 
choric synthesis. Both develop guilt-themes, and both project them 
into space and time at the fall of the curtain. That this ending has 
repeatedly proved a shock to the conventional audience is sufficiently 
proved by the notorious 'improved' ending to A Doll's House, recalling 
Nahum Tate's rewriting of Lear, and the refusal of a celebrated actress 
to play the part of Nora: 'I would never leave my children'; as well as 
the endless, speculations on Ghosts as to whether Mrs Alving did or 
did not give Oswald the poison. Nor is it enough to dismiss these 
protests as conventional and dated; it is clear that they have an im- 
portant bearing on the evolution of the tragic pattern. If dramatic life 
is not to be punctuated by dramatic death, if no reconciliation is to be 
proposed by any poetic statement, what is the final response? 

The effect seems to be the thrusting of the whole responsibility back 
upon the audience or reader; the presentation of certain facts, assump- 
tions, attitudes and emotions which are carried forward, incomplete, 

1 Transl. Garrett, p. 221. 


outside the theatre. All great tragedy probably produces some degree 
of psychic unrest, 1 but this is a troubling of deeper spiritual waters; 
whereas the Ibsen interrogation mark at the stage at which the final 
curtain falls, is continued mainly as a process of the mind, raising 
speculations which are cerebral rather than aesthetic. At the same time 
we must regard this cerebral activity projected outside the limits of the 
play as incidental even if we do not dismiss it as a futile and otiose 
response. Within the strict framework of the play, Ghosts is a tragedy, 
compact and vehement like a Greek play, though it is Hebraic rather 
than Greek in terms of the Second Commandment; its close circle of 
crime and retribution leaves us aware of the irrational or the uncompre- 
hended factor in that sequence; the pity and terror accumulate as past 
certifies present, though the pity, we may think, is less than the terror. 
And this is, perhaps, because Ibsen's thesis as regards Mrs Alving's 
conduct is too carefully worked out in terms of social convention. By 
contrast, the issues and issue of A Doll's House seem more of the surface; 
the symbolism, or more accurately, the stage devices, suggest no deeper 
issues. While Ibsen's own opinion of it was high 'he himself called it 
at first "the modern tragedy", so great and inclusive did it seem in his 
mind' 2 we feel that it remains a domestic tragedy that can be readily 
stressed in production to a comic pattern. In its psychology and motiva- 
tion it is, perhaps, the most 'dated' of Ibsen's tragedies. 

Rosmersholm and Hedda Gabler represent for our purposes two aspects 
of tragedy of great importance. The title of Rosmersholm in its first 
drafts was White Horses. The White Horse is the symbol of Rosmers- 
holm: it is linked with dead who cling to the house; the Mill-Race 
that has drowned Beata, the footbridge which Kroll will cross and 
Rosmer will not; the portraits that recall the dead burden that lies on 
Rosmer himself; the white shawl that Rebecca wears; all these point 
the contrast between the darkness that belongs to the dead wife, Beata, 
and the new hope and life that Rebecca seeks to bring down from the 

Much of the controversy that surrounds the play becomes redundant 
if we regard it as the tragedy of Rebecca, defeated by the spirit of 
Rosmersholm and of the past. Rosmer is too supine to be a hero. But 

1 Its symptoms in the audience varying greatly according to temperament and sophisti- 
cation, the extent to which they say 'Ah, that is I!' 

2 Koht, p. 67. 


if we focus our interest on Rebecca, she is, in three ways, the victim 
struggling in the net; the revelation of her illegitimacy (and hence the 
incest of her relation with Rosmer); the struggle against her own love; 
the struggle with the house and its drowned mistress. For the cumu- 
lative evil generated by a house is very real, 1 and is a complex of 
physical surroundings, past thoughts and deeds, and, I think, an attempt 
to arrest the time-stream; an image to which we can relate the Mill- 
Race and its victims. The action of clinging to a house and its past, of 
a failure to realize when the stream of history has passed it by, is a 
deep-rooted and evil instinct, the more insidious because it is so easily 
rationalized into a belief in aristocracy, pride of race and birth, and so 
on. The plays of Chekhov show this craving at its worst. 

As Rebecca's tragedy, the emotional impact is great. Rosmer's 
accidie, the second-hand sterile philosophy, the catastrophic impinging 
of the idealist Brendal in his borrowed clothes, the background of 
small-town scandal and gossip, are set against Ibsen's northern 
romanticism which is now adequately controlled. The horse is an 
archetypal image; its part in the play is the more powerful because it is 
never artificially related (as the Wild Duck seems to be) by too large 
or too explicit a number of connections. The position of Rebecca has 
been criticized, since it is she who induced Beata's suicide; it is possible 
in view of Beata's mental illness to condone her action in some measure. 
But the crimes of both Rosmer and Rebecca are confronted squarely 
by each; the final suicide of both in the Mill-Race has at least the 
strength of their love for Rosmer's is now awakened to respond to 
and confront hers to justify their expiation. That expiation is whole 
and satisfying; for Rosmer's earlier and tentative suggestion, so close 
to that made to Hedwig in The Wild Duck, is now submerged in a 
knowledge of mutual responsibility. 

If, as I think possible, there should be established a genre of satiric 
tragedy, less profound than true tragedy and yet valuable for its 
cathartic astringency, Hedda Gabler would be the classic example. Hedda 
is the explosive, masculine, frustrated woman, her vitality in perpetual 
conflict with her inhibitions; imitating her dead father, the General; 
taking as her symbols fire and pistols; hating and desiring children, and 
finding relief in the narration of Lovborg's sexual escapades. All this 
frustration is consistent with a steadily-developing sadism; expressed 

1 e.g. the Mannon house in O'Neill's Mourning Becomes EJektra. 


in youth in the threat to burn off Thea's hair, in her exhortation to 
Lovborg to shoot himself, in the final burning of the manuscript. Like 
Rosmersholm, the play is bound to the past; Hedda is the victim of the 
past, of her father, and of a dying aristocratic tradition, the shreds of 
gentility to which so many characters in modern tragedy seem to cling. 
This is at once a psychological compensation, an assumption of privi- 
lege, the opportunity for leisure and boredom, the playing with fire or 
pistols that boredom brings. 1 The satiric element is to be found in the 
larger and smaller aspects of the design; the progressive revelation of 
Hedda's character through the interaction of the others, the manner 
in which her own dramatic gestures recoil perpetually upon her; and 
the final closing of the circle with her suicide. That death offers no 
reconciliation, completes no response save that of our own interest in 
her character and the destruction of all that is empty, histrionic or 
ineffectual in herself, Lovborg, Thea and Brack. Because of this lack of 
extension or depth it demands the description of limited or satiric 
tragedy. Its final justification is our inner knowledge of the falsity of 
Judge Brack's epilogue: 

People don't do such things! 

I am inclined to think that Little Eyolfis, from a formal point of 
view, the most perfect of Ibsen's tragedies. It is of a circular structure; 
the sacrificial death of the child, his lameness that was caused by the 
momentary sexual abandonment of his parents, demand this atone- 
ment. They cannot give that until, in the famous second act, they strip 
from each other layer upon layer of pretence and selfishness; finding at 
the end a sad and resigned peace, dedicating their house and lives to 
unwanted and unloved chlidren. The regeneration through suffering 
is complete; both Rita and Allmers are changed after each has 
attempted to retain some last shreds of self-hood, and each wins the 
grace of pity. 

But such a bald account gives no consideration to the considerable 
and vital depth-images of the play. The Rat- Wife whom Little Eyolf 
follows to his death is, as Archer suggests, a mysterious and ambivalent 
character; the image of the gnawing rats (is not this a figure of the 
conscience of the three protagonists?) whom she lures to the happy 
safety of death, does not strain our credulity as do the wilder emblems 

1 This sense of boredom, emptiness, frustration that occurs so frequently in Ibsen, 
Chekov, Strindberg and sometimes in O'Neill might be ascribed in part to national 
conditions, where this sense of race existing in semi-decay provided exactly the right 
conditions for its growth. 


of the White Horses of Rosmersholtn. The problem of the boundary- 
line between objective and subjective guilt is faced and ravelled out; 
as also the problem so common in Ibsen of the discrepancy between 
thinking and living. Allmer's great work, as yet existing only in his 
brain, is on 'Human Responsibility'; circumstances conspire to reduce 
the problem to its practical and most terrible elements, with recurrent 
ironic overtones. 1 The eyes of the drowned child that stare upwards 
from the sea-bed, the crutch that floats and is rescued, the implications 
of the Rat-Wife's 

I know one ought never to get tired of doing good to the poor little things 
that are hated and persecuted so cruelly. But it takes your strength out of 
you, it does. 2 

all this serves to build up the pity and fear of the child's death. Because 
the symbolism of the drowning is never overstresscd unlike the com- 
plex and nachgesucht interrelations of the Wild Duck it becomes 
continuously effective, woven into the threads with precision and tact. 
Little Eyolf achieves a degree of dispassionateness on the part of Ibsen, 
perhaps because the matter of the play is less autobiographical than 
usual. And the progressive and deliberate conversion from fantasy to 
reality under the impulse of grief is one of the most morally important 
of all tragic themes. 

John Gabriel Borkman is also a character of guilt and retribution, and 
set in a framework that is familiar enough to every reader. The struggle 
between the two sisters, with their utterly conflicting personalities, 
for Gunhild's son, and his breaking-away from both, is another aspect 
of the dead world that, as so often in Ibsen, sucks the vitality of the 
living. Borkman dies, because he has sold his love of Ella Rentheim; 
Gunhild is deserted by her son because the 'missionary' ideal, the 
redemption of his father's name and fortune which she seeks to impose, 
is too fantastic to be pressed against the claims of living flesh and blood 
as represented by Mrs Wilton. 

It is the depth-imagery that is of special interest. John Gabriel is the 
son of a miner; he dreams of liberating all the wealth that lives under- 
ground: at the end the dream and the reality converge: 

Borkman. Can you see the smoke of the great steamships out on the fjord? 
Ella Rentheim. No. 

1 Consider Allmer's remark early in Act I. 

. . . 'You see, I have been such a fool hitherto. All the best that is in you goes into 
thinking. What you put on paper is worth very little.' Archer, p. 12. 
8 Ibid., p. 20. 


Borkman. I can. They come and they go. They weave a network of fellowship 
all round the world. They shed light and warmth over the souls of men 
in many thousands of homes. That was what I dreamed of doing. 

Ella (softly). And it remained a dream. 

Borkman. It remained a dream, yes, And hark; down by the river, dear! The 
factories are working! My factories! All those that I would have created! 
Listen! Do you hear them humming? The night shift is on so they are 
working night and day. Hark! hark! the wheels are whirling and the bands 
are flashing round and round and round. Can't you hear, Ella? 

Ella. No. 1 

Now Borkman is a complex image of modern man: who has denied 
love, committed a crime in his ambition, and seen a Prometheus-vision 
of himself as the bringer of happiness to man. But he is, over and above 
this, archetypal in character. Like the Rhine-gold in Wagner, the silver 
mine in Conrad's Nostromo, the hidden treasure of the earth is the 
supreme attraction and bane of man: the metal denies, torture, kills 
humanity. Borkman dies as he and Ella climb together (up the winding 
path) through the wood: 'it was an ice-cold metal hand that gripped 
him by the heart'. 2 At the end the resolution is complete; the two sisters 
are alone: 

Ella Rcntheim (with a painful smile). A dead man and two shadows that is 

what the cold has made of us. 
Mrs Borkman. Yes, the coldness of heart And now 3 I think we two may 

hold out our hands to each other, Ella. 
Ella. I think we may, now. 

Mrs Borkman. We twin sisters over him we have both loved. 
Ella. We two shadows over the dead man. 

But there are other depth-aspects of the play. The sub-plot that in- 
volves the old clerk Foldal and his daughter Frida is not, I think, as 
extrinsic to the plot as recent critics have suggested. 4 Borkman is made 
more credible by the fact that Foldal is a poet, has remained his friend, 
is rejected by him. The brutality and egoism of Borkman, the contrast 
between the two types of failure, the mirror-effect of the desertion 
of daughter and son, the pathos and the naivete of Foldal, add 
appreciably to the tragic effect. And Mrs Wilton's cynicism in carrying 

1 Ibid., pp. 316-17. * Ibid., p. 322. 

* Notice how Mrs Borkman's character and limitations are suggested by the transition 
between the two phrases; and Ella's patience in reply. 
4 e.g. Dr Bradbrook in Ibsen the Norwegian, p. 140. 


away Frida with them on their honeymoon, to become Erhart' s 
mistress, makes all three characters immediately credible: 

Mrs Borkman (with a malignant smile). Mrs Wilton, do you think you are 
acting quite wisely in taking that girl with you? 

Mrs Wilton (returning the smile, half ironically, half seriously). Men are so un- 
stable, Mrs Borkman. And women too. When Erhart is done with me 
and I with him then it will be well for us both that he, poor fellow, 
should have someone to fall back upon. 

Mrs Borkman. But you yourself? 

Mrs Wilton. Oh, I shall know what to do, I assure you. Good-bye to you all. 1 

John Gabriel Borkman is thus a multiple-level play; of the betrayal of 
Ella's love by Borkman's search for gold and ambition; of Gunhild's 
revenge upon him for the stigma that he has brought upon the family 
name (two kinds of guilt value) ; of three kinds of possessiveness by 
women (the two sisters, in different ways, of Erhart, and Mrs Wilton's 
sensual conquest); the dreamers (Foldal with his forgotten play, in 
which his family have long ago lost faith, and Borkman with his 
dreams of 'rehabilitation', of the wealth that he will drag from the 
earth, and of the happiness it will bring). And each dreamer kills the 
other's dream. The problem of guilt is sharpened and brought into 
touch with reality by the Lear-like battle of the twin sisters. Their 
reconciliation is all the more terrible because Ella has foreknowledge of 
her own death, and because Gunhild has been stripped of both husband 
and son. The peace between Capulets and Montagues at the end of 
Romeo and Juliet leaves us unmoved, and perhaps a little exasperated; 
but here the renewed sacrifice of Ella completes the tragic cycle. 

The Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken are perhaps best 
considered as poems of the last phase; the latter is scarcely possible on 
the stage. The Master Builder is the tragedy of the artifex facing, in old 
age, the claims of youth: and thinking (as so many have done) that 
young and radiant womanhood i sthe key to rejuvenescence. Hilda's 
youth and high spirits give Solness just this hope; confirmed by her 
own repeated sacrifice of herself: 

Can't you make use of me? 
and his reply: 

You are that of which I have the sorest need. 
Yet both arc in love, not with each other, but with an idea; and with 

1 Archer, p. 294. 


the idea that their union will neutralize the two fears that haunt him: 
the fear of youth following close on his heels, to take his reputation 
from him, and the fear of retribution for the evil that he has committed. 
The fire which he started in the Solness home, and through which he 
grew successful and wealthy, shattered his wife's life and killed his 
children. The new house that he builds for Hilda can never be a home. 
Solness is perhaps the only one of Ibsen's central characters, except 
Brand, who is of heroic stature; in the main because he is vigorous (in 
spite of age and sickness); because his gruff virility is consistently shown 
in his accent and actions; because he is, for all his sin, a visionary and a 
poet; because he confronts God, triumphantly, on the tower of the 
new house, and falls to his death. The play is satisfying in the agencies 
of retribution, and in the symbolism the building of churches versus 
the building of homes that supports it. Solness's early dream of the 
ideal fire is a good example of the day-dream rationalization. We can 
even perceive a pattern in his relations with the three women, like 
three terms of an equation; Maia, his girl secretary who idolizes him 
and is spurned; his wife, the murdered woman to whom he is married; 
and Hilda, who might in his thought have saved him, and who is in 
fact the agent of retribution. 

Like Antony, Solness is a believer in his luck, his 'guardians'; Hilda 
is to some extent possessed of a troll, and, with the vitality of youth, 
can change from mood to mood in harmony with his. But such a 
harmony is only for a moment; youth and age are incompatible; sin 
must be expiated individually. And just as Rosmer suggests Rebecca's 
sacrifice, so Hilda suggests, urges, that of Solness. Like When We Dead 
Awaken the play concerns the problem of the artist's integrity, the 
part played by marriage, love, humanity, in the complicated 'duty' of 
the artist. But because of the vastness, universality and credible sym- 
bolism of the artifacts, The Master Builder raises these issues in a manner 
that is at once more intense and more in contact with reality. 

When We Dead Awaken is, as a tragedy, a kind of apocalyptic vision 
of man's guilt, of woman's love and suffering. Like Borkman, the 
sculptor Rubek has killed Irene's soul, in the name of art; and in 
rejecting her he has killed art and life as well. The statue of the 
Resurrection grows animal heads around it. That again is archetypal; 
we may think both of King Lear and of The Dog Beneath the Skin, and 
of Circe's swine, or those of Gadara. Such symbols fall naturally to the 
hand of the dramatist who wishes to suggest the dual nature of man; 
and have sanction enough in dreams. Other symbols are less obtrusive: 


Rubek' s vision of the stations in which 'there were two railwayman 
walking up and down the platform one with a lantern in his hand 
they said things to each other in the night, low, and toneless, and 
meaningless'. 1 

The Christian system of references is of some interest. Rubek, on 
his courtship of Maia, has promised her that he would take her 'up 
to a high mountain and show her all the glory of the world*. 

Professor Rubek (with a slight start). Did I promise you that, too? 

Mafa. Me too? Who else, pray? 

Rubek (indifferently). No, no, I only meant did I promise to show you ? 

Maia. all the glory of the world? Yes, you did. And that glory should be 

mine, you said. 
Rubek. That is a sort of figure of speech that I was in the habit of using once 

upon a time. 

Maia. Only a figure of speech? 
Rubek. Yes, a scholarly phrase the sort of thing I used to say when I wanted 

to lure the neighbours' children out to play with me, in the woods and 

on the mountains. 2 

Like the manuscript in Hedda Gabler, Rubek's great statue is his 
'child'. Like Allmer's in Little Eyolfhe is the victim of his own 'artistic' 
self-delusion, the perpetual hubris of the writer or artist. The symbolism 
of the 'revisions' to the Resurrection-Statue is perhaps a Little too 
obvious, as well as being materially impossible; the recession of the 
figure into the background, the guilt-laden figure of the artist in the 
foreground, the animalized men and women burgeoning about it. 

It is, in one sense, a 'neutral' tragedy: Rubek with his intolerable self- 
centredness, with his monstrous suggestions of a manage a trois, can 
never be a tragic hero. Irene is, perhaps, more of the stamp of the tragic 
heroine, but as a victor-victim; of multiple personality, prepared to 
take revenge for the ruin of her life, prepared to surrender utterly in her 
transfiguration as she and Rubek are about to ascend the peak. To her 
Maia is a clumsy foil, though not without some subtlety of character 
drawing in her very naivete and ecstatic horror at the bear-hunter's 
attractions. The song of her freedom sounds through the roar of the 
avalanche that carries away Rubek and Irene. It is a BrW-like ending, 
a little mechanical, even to the Sister of Mercy's Pax Vobiscum: but 
the mountains and their symbolism, the Norwegian fjords and mists, 
the horror of winter, are realities that grow comprehensible with some 

1 Archer, p. 334. Consider the vitality, and the profundity, of the symbol. 
8 Archer, pp. 340-1. 


residence in Norway. Yet the play is unactable, confused; the texture 
of its ironies is not handled with Ibsen's usual certainty. Only it repre- 
sents, for us, the compelling and eternal dilemma of the artist: the 
exaltation and nemesis of his humanity; his self-assumed prerogative to 
sacrifice others for the sake of his art; the inevitable discontent, self- 
distrust, desire to revise, and better, that follow the completed work. 
'Life, how or what is it?' Is the artist to deny life that he may live more 
abundantly, and does not that denial bring its retribution? Perhaps in 
Yeats's words: 

The intellect of man is forced to choose 
Perfection of the life, or of the work, 
And if it take the second must refuse 
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark. . .* 


The Ibsen contribution to the Tact or experience' of tragedy can now 
be considered. It is, I think, advisable to say first what it is not. All 
earlier estimates of the 'pallid and joyless* realist, of the 'clinical 
analyst' or of the 'prudential moralist' are now perceived to be in- 
complete. As a dramatist he is seen to be, in many ways, the product of 
a peculiar Zeitgeist. In his work, several streams meet; the heroic 
nationalism that must be, as always, perceived in terms of energy, 
courage, the supra-natural that appears to be climatically proper to 
the North. He is 'thrown upon the filthy modern tide' of apathy, 
pettiness, accidie rather than active corruption, a spiritual failure 
accentuated by the attempt at national revival. He is, by upbringing 
and environment and the intellectual pressure of his time, a paradoxical 
figure in that he inherits a strong sense of guilt, 2 is conscious of a wide 
break between "the aesthetic and the practical, and oscillates between 
the desire for a clear-cut solution and a quasi-prudential system of 
morals. When agnosticism is superimposed on an early religious back- 
ground, we may expect to find die sense of guilt reinforced, seeking for 
expiation, in later life. And Ibsen, as a practical man of the theatre 
and a technician of immense resources, had his ear always close to the 
ground as regards the response to his plays; and assumed a mask as 
a legendary European figure which gained appreciably through his own 

1 The Choice. 

* Maybe all writers of tragedy possess this sense; or can know it, imaginatively, to the 


The tragic material is ample in scope, profound up to a point 
in treatment. His interest in character and skill in its delineation is 
sufficient to guarantee that. It is valid, from the point of view of 
Christian ethics, in that it appears to progress towards conceptions of 
personal responsibility, personal guilt, and atonement: though in an 
imperfect and imprecise manner. It falls short of the greatest tragic art 
in that any admiration we may possess for the human spirit is always 
modified, balanced, by the tragi-comic. There is, save Brand, no single 
potential hero; and Brand fails from the lack of common humanity 
to balance the fierce and ruthless Kierkcgaardian ethic. Nor is Ibsen 
himself of such poetic stuff as to allow his characters to find resolution 
or reliefer ecstasy in defeat. From one point of view we may perhaps 
ascribe this to his own carefully-guarded and masked position, from 
another to the meticulous balance of the plays; or we may see in it 
failure to think greatly enough to perceive the true nature of man's 
defeat, and his tragic victory. We may doubt Shaw's statement * ... I 
think Ibsen has proved the right of the drama to take scriptural rank, 
and his own right to canonical rank as one of the major prophets of 
the modern Bible.' l 

1 Major Critical Essays, p. 148. 


The Shavian Machine 

He understands everything in life except its paradoxes, especially that 
ultimate paradox that the very things we cannot comprehend are the things 
we have to take for granted. 1 


IT is related that Yeats perceived, in a dream or vision, Shaw as a 
sewing-machine 'that clicked and clicked continually'. There is a 
pleasantly surrealist quality about such a vision, and we must discount 
many of Yeast's statements about his friends and enemies; but there is, 
as often, a germ of the truth here. The. two Irishmen, opposed in 
almost every conceivable aspect of background, upbringing and person- 
ality, offer some interesting material for a consideration of Twentieth- 
century Tragedy. Shaw professed an immense admiration for his own 
interpretation of the Ibsen tradition; Yeats and Synge, in different 
ways, rebelled against the 'pallid and joyless realism' that they saw 
there, although Yeats had a far more sensitive understanding of Ibsen 
than had Synge. For Ibsen was a poet; Shaw, taking over from those 
elements of Ibsen's art which best fitted his own optimistic scepticism, 
could only produce poetry from the teeth outwards; in spite of three 
notable attempts. 2 

The social and intellectual climate of England in the period 1880 to 
1920 was perhaps less fitted to provide favourable conditions for a 
tragic Anschauung than either the Norway of Ibsen or the Ireland of 
Yeats and O'Casey. The slowly-broadening freedom, the inanities and 
inconsistencies of a world that was still sorting out its own 'complexi- 
ties of mire and blood* offered magnificent material for the socialist 
satirist, but little or nothing towards a constructive vision based upon 
conflicting antinomies. The pressures, religious, philosophical or 
national, were either insufficient to provide a sense of urgency, or 
obscured in the indefmiteness of objectives suggested by twentieth- 
century warfare. The vast problems of centralization raised by new 

1 George Bernard Shaw, p. 192. 

1 In The Doctor's Dilemma, John Bull's Other Island, and Stjoan. 


methods of communication, the bewildering impact of 'news' upon 
the public mind, were beginning to exercise those peculiar powers of 
induration and confusion which persist to-day. But to Shaw it must 
have seemed that the only refuge lay in a creative scepticism extended 
impartially over militarism, feminism, journalism, economics, medi- 
cine, big business and political philosophy, and in the Nietzschean 
romanticism of the Superman. 

Three only of Shaw's plays deserve consideration as tragedies; The 
Doctor's Dilemma, Mrs Warren s Profession, and Stjoan. 

At first sight The Doctor's Dilemma affords a striking example of the 
Hegelian theory of tragedy, the conflict of two balanced and irreconcil- 
able claims, which by their conflict raise important questions of value 
but which point to a division in the substance of The Good. If circum- 
stances allow the salvation of only one life, which is to be preferred; 
that of the morally worthless artist or that of the worthy general 
practitioner? By what scale is the choice to be justified? The stage is 
set, the victim dies; the famous epilogue is spoken by Ridgeon: 

Then I have committed a purely disinterested murder! 

The play is well constructed, theoretically effective, with excellent 
characterization; and yet the tragic failure is complete. 

There are, I think, several reasons. The Doctor's Dilemma is the 
supreme example of the multiple-aspect-and-objcct play whose artistic 
statement is wholly vitiated by the impurity of its intention and the 
failure (in spite of signs that Shaw attempted this late in the play) to 
achieve a true balance within that statement. As usual we must first 
consider the Preface with its ninety-four pages, in which Shaw tells 
us specifically what he is attacking: the shortcomings of doctors; the 
evils of poverty (generally, and specifically as regards doctors); inocula- 
tion; vivisection; cruelty; national health; medical training and 
organization. We must supplement these 'topics', in the Ibsen manner, 
by ancillary discussions of the shortcomings of journalists, and the 
place of the artist in the State. The long and unrelieved first act is 
cumbered with endless medical debate, allowingjust enough character 
to emerge to serve the developing mechanics of the plot, but adding 
appreciably to the subjects proposed in the Preface: criminal law, 
cremation, Jewish vs. Gentile commercial morality, bourgeois views 
on marriage, and Christian Science. Behind these is the oscillating 


attack of the Puritan-Moralist on the artist and his function in society. 
And because of the very multiplicity of these topics, the play fails 
utterly to accumulate momentum; the whole of the first act is 'dis- 
cussion*. The third is concerned with the anagnorisis of Dubedat's 
character as a scoundrel with artistic gifts, and provides further material 
for the Shavian polemic; for a moment we have some hint of human 
relationship in the opening between Dubedat and Jennifer, which is 
not picked up again till the death-scene. In this there are two speeches, 
admirably designed to illustrate Shaw's idea of the power of ^ false 
word his conception of rhetoric to persuade to that which is not. 
But such an analysis is too simple; Shaw would, I think, like us to be 
carried away by Dubedat's eloquence, is aware that it is pastiche, and 
by sheer brilliance introduces, as it were, a double falsification. The 
following piece of dialogue is illuminating, from Dubedat's death- 

Louis. I want you to be beautiful. I want people to see in your eyes that you 
were married to me. The people in Italy used to point at Dante and say 
'There goes the man who has been in hell.' I want them to point at you 
and say 'There goes a woman who has been in heaven.' It has been heaven, 
darling, hasn't it sometimes? 

Mrs Dubedat. Oh yes, yes. Always, always. 

Louis. If you wear black and cry, people will say 'Look at that miserable 
woman: her husband made her miserable.' 

Mrs Dubedat. No, never. You are the light and blessing of my life. I never 
lived until I knew you. 

Louis (his eyes glistening). Then you must always wear beautiful dresses and 
splendid magic jewels. Think of all the wonderful pictures I shall never 
paint. (She wins a terrible victory over a sob.) Well, you must be transfigured 
with all the beauty of those pictures. Men must get such dreams from 
seeing you as they could never get from any daubing with paints and 
brushes. Painters must paint you as they never painted any mortal woman 
before. There must be a great tradition of beauty, a great atmosphere of 
wonder and romance. That is what men must always think of when they 
think of me. That is the sort of immortality I want. You can make that 
for me, Jennifer. There are lots of things you dont understand that every 
woman in the street understands; but you can understand that and do it as 
nobody else can. Promise me that immortality. Promise me you will not 
make a little hell of crape and crying and undertaker's horrors and withering 
flowers and all that vulgar rubbish. 1 

Beneath the surface the weakness and sentimentality is apparent; 

1 Act IV. 


partly because Shaw has failed to build up sufficient stature for either 
of the characters in the earlier part of the play, partly because the 
emotional pressure is insufficient to carry conviction. And two re- 
dundancies the allusions to 'the woman in the street* and to funeral 
customs are admirable illustrations of Shaw's failure to achieve unity 
of tone. 

By contrast, Mrs Warren s Profession comes very close to a true 
tragedy in the Ibsen manner. It is not hard to see why. The theme and 
its characters are integral, the psychological insight more subtle than 
usual; and because the speech of the characters is wholly in tone with 
the playwright's conception of them, it does not jar by any attempt 
at the self-consciously poetic. The ending is modulated sufficiently into 
the unspoken to leave room for the imagination to work upon the 
whole; Shaw's fondness for abruptness and finality has for the moment 
been abandoned And while the component themes arc drawn from 
Shaw's stock-in-trade (poverty, morality, clerical hypocrisy, parent- 
child relationships) they are sufficiently absorbed into the idea of the 
play not to appear discordant. 

In some strange manner, too, the play has links with the great 
classical themes; the nature of 'nature* between mother and daughter, 
father and son; hypocrisy, and the power of the individual and of 
society to rationalize or mask it; perhaps, too, the shadow of incest 
in the discovery of the relationship between Vivien and Frank. 
Through them the 'society* which Shaw attacks so constantly achieves 
a kind of monstrous objectivity of its own. The sentimental artist, 
Praed, produces the ironic criticism of conventional values, though he 
is a little distorted. There is indeed much truth in Shaw's statement in 
the Preface: 

Thus it comes about that the more completely the dramatist is emanci- 
pated from the illusion that men and women are primarily reasonable beings, 
and the more powerfully he insists on the ruthless indifference of their great 
dramatic antagonist, the external world, to their whims and emotions, the 
surer he is to be denounced as blind to the distinction on which his whole 
work is built. Far from ignoring idiosyncrasy, will, passion, impulse, whim, 
as factors in human action, I have placed them so nakedly on the stage that 
the elderly citizen, accustomed to see them clothed with the veil of manu- 
factured logic about duty, and to disguise even his own impulses from him- 
self in this way, finds the picture as unnatural as Carlyle's suggested painting 
of parliament sitting without its clothes. 


We can remember with profit Timon, Lear and Swift. When this 
social criticism is successfully merged with the dramatic structure the 
ironies of speech and situation support the whole, and when Shaw's 
sense of the theatre allows him to trust his audience to complete the 
pattern of the unspoken, we have an approach to the only kind of 
tragedy his genius allowed him to compass, the tragedy of woman. 


St Joan is for our purposes the single most interesting play: not 
merely because controversy has raged for so long about its value as a 
tragedy, but because Shaw has in the Preface given us some account 
of what he conceives to be the essential tragic principles: 

There are no villains in the piece. Ciiine, like disease, is not interesting: it 
is something to be done away with by general consent, and that is all about it. 
It is what men and women do at their best, with good intentions, and what 
normal men and women find that they must do and will do in spite of their 
intentions, that really concern us. The rascally bishop and the cruel in- 
quisitor of Mark Twain and Andrew Lang are dull as pickpockets; and they 
reduce Joan to the level of the even less interesting person whose pocket is 
picked. I have represented both ot them as capable and eloquent exponents 
of the Church Militant and the Church Litigant, because only by doing so can I 
maintain my drama on the level of high tragedy and save it from becoming a mere 
police court sensation. A villain in a play can never be anything more than a 
diabohis ex tnachina, possibly a more exciting expedient than a deus ex machina, 
but both equally mechanical, and therefore interesting only as mechanism. 

We are led by this statement to look for a Hegelian balance, like 
that proposed in The Doctor's Dilemma', a balance to 'maintain the 
play on the level of high tragedy*. This careful manipulation oi. 
the scales is predominantly intellectual; and it appears to involve the 
exclusion of any philosophy of: evil 1 in favour of stupidity, ignorance, 
self-will; and a general blindness to the ultimate outcome of a given 
action in time. The conflict is, in the most generalized terms, between 
Genius and Discipline, as Shaw points out in the Preface. 

But this intellectual framework, this immense care to present both 
sides of the conflict and to provide a rational basis for the supra- 
natural, 2 has some interesting effects. Both sets of protagonists are 
deflated, impartially, by the darts of Shaw's wit; and have scarcely 

J This is made clear by the irony of Ladvenu's reading of the confession she is required 
to sign. 

2 Cf. Shaw's care to stress the commonplace aspect of Joan's 'voices', as well as the 
commonplace character from several aspects of Joan herself. 


any breath left to sustain the moments of high tragedy in the trial 
scene. We have thus an interesting reflection on the whole question 
of comic relief in modern tragedy; it seems that the humour must be 
carefully adjusted to the characters without depriving them of the 
potentiality for rising, momentarily at least, above the memory of 
their demonstrated weakness. And we are led to the suspicion that 
Shaw is obsessed with the idea of the 'ordinary', as opposed to the 
theatrical, representations of his characters, an 'ordinariness' which is 
itself treated theatrically in order to emphasize it even at the expense 
of a certain cheapness of wit. In the trial scene the Inquisitor alone 
retains his full dignity; the Chaplain is over-caricatured, the anti- 
imperialism handled with far too heavy a touch. It becomes very clear 
that the central problem of the modern writer of tragedy is to achieve 
this delicate balance between the ordinary and the theatrical, so that the 
ordinary is not robbed of its power of exaltation, nor the theatrical 
degraded to the sentimental. And the wit must, in some manner, be 
merged into humour, if we are to believe in the capacity of the main 
protagonists to rise, in the later stages of the play, to the high emotion 
that will be demanded of them. But most interesting of all is Shaw's 
attempt to solve the problem of lyric speech at the moment of greatest 

Yes: they told me you were fools (the word gives great offence), and that I 
was not to listen to your fine words nor trust to your chanty. You promised 
me my life, but you hed (indignant exclamations). You think that life is nothing 
but not being stone dead. It is not the bread and water I fear: I can live on 
bread: when have I asked for more? It is no hardship for me to drink water 
if the water be clean. Bread has no sorrow for me, and water no affliction. 
But to shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers; 
to chain my feet so that I can never again ride with the soldiers nor climb the 
hills; to make me breathe foul damp darkness, and keep me from everything 
that brings me back to the love of God when your wickedness and foolishness 
tempt me to hate Him: all this is worse than the furnace in the Bible that was 
heated seven times. I could do without my war horse; I could drag about in a 
skirt; I could let the banners and the trumpets and the knights and soldiers 
pass me and leave me behind as they leave the other women, if only I could 
still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs 
crying through the healthy frost, and the blessed church bells that send my 
angel voices floating to me on the wind. But without these things I cannot 
live; and by your wanting to take them away from me I know that your 
counsel is of the devil, and that mine is of God. 1 

1 Scene VI. 


The rhythms here are an interesting index to the quality of the 
emotion; having in mind the previous delineation of Joan's character; 
and the two stage directions in the first two lines show that Shaw 
could never leave the obvious to the good sense and tact of his readers. 
We suspect the playwright's integrity because of the lack of rhythmic 
unity in the passage as a whole, as well as for the occasional clumsiness. 
('You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead.') The passage 
that starts *if only I could hear the wind in the trees' l is consciously 
'poetic', quite out of keeping both with Joan's character and with the 
sentences that precede and follow it. 

The Epilogues to Shaw's plays, both in The Doctor's Dilemma and 
in St Joan, have been the source of endless controversy. They serve 
several purposes. They stand in part for a negation of the traditional 
ending, that of the death of the hero. The play and life continue; the 
extension is, perhaps, designed to tempt us to view them sub specie 
aeternitatis. Any intention of the kind is denied by the irresistible 
opportunities they offer for a deflation of traditional attitudes, and to 
hammer home some of the propositions already set in the play. Shaw 
takes a final critical and ironical look at what has gone before. Death is 
neither eloquent, nor just, nor mighty, nor yet 'a queer untidy thing'. 
It is a chemical change through cremation. Ideas live on, modify them- 
selves; illusion and stupidity continue in different forms; and, standing 
aside, Shaw's world is seen to have some measure of intellectual pity, 
but not of fear. 

But why? Does this mean that Shaw, or Shaw's audience, demand a 
Weltanschauimg sufficiently distanced that, like Troilus, they can laugh 
'from the holwe of the seventh sphere', at human stupidity? There are 
grounds for believing that this is so. 'The tragedy of such murders is 
that they are not committed by murderers' (cf. The Doctor's Dilemma). 
'They are judicial murders, pious murders; and this contradiction at 
once brings an element of comedy into the tragedy: the angels may 
weep at the murder, but the gods laugh at the murderers/ * 

But to extend the tragedy in time and space in order to perceive the 
comedy is to remove at a stroke the possibility of a full tragic response. 
Any tragedy, thus produced in time, is seen, from an altitude, to 

1 I do not think it is fantastic to perceive curiously Synge-like rhythms as well as 
substance in this passage: 'but you'll be hearing the herons crying out over the black lakes, 
and you'll be hearing the grouse and the owls with them, and the larks and the big 
thrushes when the days are warm . . . but its fine songs you'll be hearing when the sun 
goes up, and there'll be no old fellow wheezing, the like of a sick sheep, close to your 
car'. (The Shadow of the Glen.) 

* Preface to Stjoan, p. Ivi. 


provide its own resolution; as in medieval religious drama. It removes 
from the audience the need for any individual response or responsi- 
bility in the present. There are none of the old misgivings, the crooked 
questions that lie at the roots of individual experience; and Joan's cry 
'How long . . . ?' fades into the commonplaces of history. 

Such considerations, themselves negative as regards Shaw's position 
as a tragic artist, may yet suggest certain thoughts on the nature of 
tragedy. The tragic artist must present the problems which he handles 
as intrinsic with the plot, character, and imagery, the whole a colloidal 
mixture rather than a series of separate globules existing in a kind of 
surface-tension relationship. There would appear also to be a limit to 
the number of propositions that form the raw material; it is, for 
example, apparent that Shaw's 'subjects' are far more numerous, and 
less relevant to the central theme, than say, those of Ibsen or of Brieux. 
The sense of a tragic pattern is all-important; if this does not emerge 
from the interaction of character, the pattern must be brought out by 
imagery or symbol in the broad poetic statement. That poetic state- 
ment cannot be applique 'd, at those points of the play where the 
dramatist thinks that they are demanded by the theatrical context; 
it must be, as it were, latent from the very beginning of the play, as 
much in its Image l as in its language. Comic relief, in general, must 
illuminate, contrast with, or round off this total idea; it must not be 
designed merely to puncture, deflate or wound for its own sake. And 
finally, the dramatist must achieve a certain measure of identification 
with his characters and situations; if he stands (even for a moment) 
outside them to criticize them with his own lips, he has withdrawn 
from them in just that measure their whole poetic life. Arland Ussher's 
words are worth quoting in this context: 

The tension we miss in him consists of those wholly un-Shavian ideas sin, 
temptation and remorse; or in an older language than the Christian, in fear 
and pity those emotions which the adolescent superman-worshipper will 
always despise pity for the unalterability of the human lot, fear of the forces 
which lurk under the most polished social surface. 2 

1 I use the word in Abercrombie's sense Cf Principles of English Prosody. 
* Arland Ussher, Three Great Irishmen, p. 58. 


The Irish Tragedy 
(Synge, Yeats, O'Cascy) 

They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay, 
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread. 

Lapis Lazuli 

ON general grounds it is arguable that the first quarter of the twentieth 
century offered in Ireland a cultural and political background that 
seemed exceptionally favourable to the growth of tragedy. A high 
degree of patriotism and nationalist feeling, fostered in the popular 
poetry of the preceding century, was to be given expression through 
the Irish Literary Movement. The dramatists could draw on three 
layers of material, or on various interpenetrations of those layers: the 
long memories of oppression, and the sporadic epic protests against it, 
inflated or distilled into a mythology; the newly-revived Celtic 
legends which could, it was hoped, be used as symbols to fire popular 
imagination to a new heroism in pursuit of hberty; and a capacity to 
accept, in varying degrees and conflicts, the possibility of the supra- 
natural. There was a further asset in rhythmical peasant speech, capable 
both of precision and of lyric flexibility, which appeared to offer a 
more promising medium than the Elizabethan imitations of the 
preceding century. The general setting invited parallels, however far- 
fetched, with the great ages of tragic production; even the material of 
violent or significant action both before and after the Easter Rising 
of 1916 was of a character that was well suited (being itself theatrical) 
to manipulation for the theatre. It was, in fact, a conflict sufficiently 
small to be perspicuous, sufficiently linked to personalities to rely upon 
a presentation of character not yet submerged by the larger wars. In 
the temper of the people we can perceive factors both favourable and 
hostile to the growth of a great tragedy. Of these the most important 
is the infinite distance between the popular audiences of Dublin and the 
playwrights themselves. The latter were, in the main, Anglo-Irish, 
Protestant, and of a cultural tradition which, whether through Choice 



or Chance, had sought fulfilment in England, where a more liberal 
tradition of speculation upon ultimate values might allow such ques- 
tions to be represented in the theatre. The former were excitable, often 
curiously informed and as often semi-literate in their preferences, un- 
yielding in their prejudgement of problems of sex, viewing larger 
philosophical issues under the shadow of a rigid theological system. 
The memories of the audience were long; they had fed themselves on 
grievances and phantasies; they were deeply sensitive in the pride which 
is built upon the past, and a future which sought, often a little arti- 
ficially, to find roots therein. Yet that history, like the national griev- 
ances, was too remote to admit of a resurrection which might produce 
any significant alignment with the present; there was no classical or 
Biblical tradition, popularized in pageant, masque and dumb show, to 
offer common ground. We may doubt whether drama based on Celtic 
legend could ever approach, in contemporary relevance and signifi- 
cance, that which had established itself on Biblical and classical founda- 
tions. A drama based on Celtic sources would be liable to become 
factitious, in spite of all literary attempts to implant it in the book of the 
people; and, if it were so implanted, there remained the question 
whether the language of its representation should be in the English 
poetic tradition, or in some such variants of the illustrious vulgar as 
were evolved by Synge and Lady Gregory. Only rarely could a classical 
theme be re-kindled with profit, as Yeats translated Oedipus] though 
both Celtic and Classic had the advantage of being distanced sufficiently 
to avoid direct criticism of social or theological kind. The same con- 
sideration applied to Biblical subjects; Yeats's Calvary and The Resurrec- 
tion could hardly have been approved, even if their implications had 
been understood, any more than could George Moore's The Apostle. 
The tragic dramatists tended, probably unconsciously, to fall back on 
themes which were based on the 'reality and joy* of peasant life, itself 
limited in complexity, hard to universalize, and apt to acquire over- 
tones of a bitter comedy; or to the impact upon their time of political 
and military violence which three wars brought to their thresholds. In 
the Ireland of the first half of the twentieth century there was neither 
creative scepticism to synthesize past and present, nor a social liberalism 
to present a vision of the future. 

The tragedy produced in this period in Ireland is best typified in 
the work of Synge, Yeats, and Sean O'Casey, for there is little other 


work of note. Of these it seems likely that Synge will remain in our 
judgement as the outstanding tragedian. He did not, indeed, produce 
a body of explicit theory; demanding only in the theatre reality not 
realism and joy, and finding new resources in the country-folk: 

In Ireland, for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is 
fiery, and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish to write 
start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the spring-time 
of the local life has been forgotten, and the harvest is a memory only, and the 
straw has been turned into bricks. 1 

But it was Yeats who provided, in his endeavour to shape the Abbey 
Theatre and by his own development as a playwright, a considerable 
body of material on the theory of tragedy. It is clear that it owes much 
to Shakespeare, and that it is in part at least a revolt against Ibsen for his 
alleged 'realism': 

There is an art of the flood, the art of Titian when his Ariosto and his 
Bacchus and Ariadne give new images to the dreams of youth, 2 and of Shake- 
speare when he shows us Hamlet broken away from life by the passionate 
hesitations of his reverie. And we call this art poetical, because we must 
bring to it more than our daily mood if we would take our pleasure; and 
because it delights in picturing the moment of exaltation, of excitement, of 
dreaming (or of the capacity for it, as in that still face of Anosto's that is like 
some vessel soon to be full of wine). And there is an art that we call real, 
because character can only express itself perfectly in a real world, being that 
world's creature, and because we understand it best through a delicate dis- 
crimination of the senses, which is but entire wakefulness, the daily mood 
grown cold and crystalline. 

We may not find either mood in its purity, but in mainly tragic art one 
distinguishes devices to exclude or lessen character, to diminish the power of 
that daily mood, to cheat or blind its too clear perception. If the real world 
is not altogether rejected it is but touched here and there, and into the places 
we have left empty we summon rhythm, balance, pattern, images that re- 
mind us of vast passions, the vagueness of past times, all the chimeras that 
haunt the edge of trance ... so that it is in the supreme moment of tragic art 
there comes upon one that strange sensation as though the hair of one's head 
stood up. 8 

It appears, then, that Yeats is considering a tragic drama in which 
character receives comparatively little emphasis (for he considers that 
character delineation is more belonging to comedy, or to comic relief 

1 Preface to The Playboy of the Western World. * Cf. his poem, The Statues. 

8 Plays for an Irish Theatre, pp. vii-viii. We may recall the frequent repetition of the 
Job image, no doubt remembering Blake's illustration. Cf. The Mother of God. 


in tragedy), but which rchcs on the evocation of a peculiar and char- 
acteristic state of mind. Such exaltation is simple in its quality, and is 
seen in direct alignment with the past, upon which it must often draw. 
'All folk literature has indeed a passion whose like is not in modern 
literature and music and art, except where it has come by some straight 
or crooked way out of ancient times/ 1 

Yeats developed his own vision of a return to a form which should 
combine simplicity and intensity. The following passage is of great 

In poetical drama there is, it is held, an antithesis between character and 
lyric poetry, for lyric poetry however much it may move you when read 
out of a book can, as these critics think, but encumber the action. Yet when 
we go back a few centuries and enter the great periods of drama, character 
grows less and sometimes disappears, and there is much lyric feeling, and at 
times a lyric measure will be wrought into the dialogue, a flowing measure 
that had well-befitted music, or that more lumbering one of the sonnet. 
Suddenly it strikes us that character is continuously present in comedy alone, 
and that there is much tragedy, that of Corneillc, that of Racine, that of 
Greece and Rome, where us place is taken by passions and motives, one 
person being jealous, another full of love or remorse or pride or anger. In 
writers of tragi-comedy (and Shakespeare is always a writer of tragi-comcdy) 
there is indeed character, but we notice that it is in the moments of comedy 
that character is defined, in Hamlet's gaiety, let us say; while amid the great 
moments, when Timon orders his tomb, when Hamlet cries to Horatio 
'absent thee from felicity awhile*, when Antony names 'Of many thousand 
kisses the poor last', all is lyricism, unmixed passion, 'the integrity of fire'. 
Nor does character ever attain to complete definition in these lamps ready 
for the taper, no matter how circumstantial and gradual the opening of 
events, as it does in Falstaff who has no passionate purpose to fulfil, or as it 
does in Henry the Fifth whose poetry, never touched by lyric heat, is ora- 
torical; nor when the tragic reverie is at its height do we say, 'How well that 
man is realized, I should know him were I to meet him in the street/ for it 
is always ourselves that we see upon the stage . . . 2 

Yet, in the initial stages, Yeats saw clearly a vision of the high 
destinies of drama and of tragedy : 

If Literature is but praise of life, if our writers are not to plead the National 
Cause, nor insist upon the Ten Commandments, nor upon the glory of their 
country, what part remains for it, in the common life of the country? It will 
influence the life of the country immeasurably more, though seemingly less, 
than have our propagandist poems and stories. It will leave to others the 
1 Essays, p. 221. a Ibid., pp. 296-7. 


defence of all that can be codified for ready understanding, of whatever is 
the especial business of sermons, and of leading articles; but it will bring all 
the ways of men before that ancient tribunal of our sympathies. It will measure 
all things by the measure not of things visible but of things invisible . . . We 
will be more interested in heroic man than in heroic actions, and will have a 
little distrust for everything that can be called good or bad in itself with a 
very confident heart . . . Could we understand it so well, we will say, if it 
were not other than human life? We will have a scale of virtues, and value 
most highly those that approach the indefinable. 1 

The same ideas arc re-stated in Yeats's later critical work, though the 
emphasis on folk-literature gives way to the conception of a stylized 
drama, a small and select audience, and a greater interest in traditional 
themes. Tragedy is still both personal and indeterminate: 

A poet creates tragedy from his own soul, that soul which is alike in all 
men It has not joy, as we understand that word, but ecstasy, which is from 
the contemplation of things vaster than the individual and imperfectly seen, 
perhaps, by all those that still live. The masks of tragedy contain neither 
character nor personal energy. . . . 2 The soul knows its changes of state alone, 
and I think the motives of tragedy are not related to action but to changes 
of state. 3 

He appears to have been impatient of the 'pathetic' in tragedy: 

I saw Hamlet on Saturday night, except for the chief 'Ophelia' scenes, and 
missed these (for I had to be m the Abbey) without regret. Their pathos, as 
they are displayed, has always left me cold. I came back for Hamlet, at the 
graveside: 4 there my delight always begins anew. I feel in Hamlet, as so often 
m Shakespeare, that I am in the presence of a soul lingering on the storm- 
beaten threshold of sanctity. Has not that threshold always been terrible, even 
crime-haunted? 5 

The best of Synge's work represents tragedy reduced to its simplest 
elements, and it may indeed be questioned whether the simplification 
has not been carried too far. In essence the formula is of man's conflict 

1 P. & C., pp. 112-13. 

2 This passage is related to the N6h plays. Cf. aJso Letters, ed. Wade, p. 587: 'I shall not 
be able to use the word joy in my lee ture for it would confuse things. I shall have to use 
the word "ecstasy". Ecstasy includes emotions like those of Synge's Deirdre after her 
lover's death which are the worst of sorrows to the ego.' 

8 Dramatis Personae, p. 89. 

4 Again, the 'wisdom of the tomb' to which Yeats returns continually. 'No dark tomb- 
haunter once ...'(/! Bronze Head). 
* Dramatis Personae, p. 140. 


with circumstance or environment, in a setting which shows a con- 
tinuous and poignant awareness of the passing of beauty, the immanence 
and inevitability of death. His world is at once mysterious, beautiful, 
brutal. It is unified by rhetorical-lyrical statement, drawing freely on a 
range of imagery which is cither traditional, or from 'the book of the 
people', and sometimes a compound of both. 

Riders to the Sea, one of the few effective one-act tragedies in litera- 
ture, is of considerable technical interest, particularly in the light of 
Synge's solution of the problem of obtaining sufficient momentum 
within a single act. He achieves this by simplifying the conflict of 
Man vs. Necessity into Man vs The Sea: and the impetus is given by 
the setting of the Aran cottage, the new boards for the coffin, the 
interpenetration of the world of the living by the world of the dead, 
and Maurya's final resignation: 

They're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me ... 

The accessory symbolism is never stressed, but glows and fades again 
with the tensions of the action; the dead and the living riders, the 
water-spring by which Maurya meets her sons, the bread which she fails 
to give the living, and which refreshes the makers of her son's coffin. 
The elemental structure of the play is clear; two recognitions (the girl's 
identification of their brother's body by its clothing, and the realization 
that the body carried in at the door is not Michael, but Bartley) and 
this last reversal of the situation: the rider to the sea who seeks to sell 
his horses that he may live. 

It is effective because the age-old sense of fatality is communicated 
simply and vividly, so that it becomes clear even to those who do not 
know the Islands. The symbolism of the red mare and the grey pony, 
the ageless and noble terror-image of the horse, communicate its sense 
of mystery even without the memory of the Four Riders. 1 It is 
punctuated, linked to reality by the everyday life of the Islanders, as 
well as by the petulant wisdom of the old. We can perceive the double 
value in such a passage as this: 

Bartley (to Cathleen). If the west wind holds with the last bit of the moon a 
let you and Nora get up weed enough for another cock for the kelp. 8 It's 
hard set we'll be from this day with no one in it but one man to work. 

1 Revelations vi. 5. 

* The common reader is perhaps aware only of the broad evocative values: the fisher- 
man knows that the weather changes with the visiting moon. 
1 For manuring the stony fields of Aran. 


or Maurya's 

I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony, and there was Michael 
upon it with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet. 1 

or the laconic grumbling of the old men who are to make the coffin: 

We have fine white boards herself brought, God help her, thinking 

Michael would be found, and I have a new cake you can eat while you'll 

be working. 

The Old Man (looking at the boards). Are there nails with them? 
Cathleen. There are not, Colum; we didn't think of the nails. 
Another Man. It's a great wonder she wouldn't think of the nails, and all the 

coffins she's seen made already. 
Cathleen. It's getting old she is, and broken. 

The tragic resolution is achieved with ease and tact. Maurya is 
beyond lamentation. Her benediction on the souls of her dead is quiet 
and gracious, with the natural and familiar dignity of the Irish peasant. 
The grave is quiet and deep, and the burials have been accomplished; 
paganism and Christianity meet. 

By contrast, Deirdre is infinitely less effective in spite of its more 
conventional form. The Irgend is relatively remote; more exposition 
is necessary; and above all the language, which involves the trans- 
position of Syngc's characteristic peasant speech to a traditional heroic 
action, is only intermittently successful. The transitions from the lyrical 
mood to the language of actuality, with its hint of the 'clay and the 
worms', arc less happily achieved, and we feel that the original rhythms 
have become a little stereotyped. Nor is the attempted alignment, in 
image and myth, with the European tradition handled with complete 
success. The following passage will suggest both its qualities and defects: 

Deirdre. Draw a little back with the squabbling of tools when I am broken up 
with misery ... I see the flames of Emain starting upward in the dark 
night; and because of me there will be weasels and wild cats crying on a 
lonely wall where there were queens and armies and red gold, the way 
there will be a story told of a ruined city and a raving king and a woman 
will be young for ever ... I see the trees naked and bare, and the moon 
shining. Little moon, little moon of Alban, it's lonesome you'll be this 
night, and long nights after, and you pacing the woods beyond Glen Laoi, 
looking every place for Deirdre and Naisi, the two lovers who slept so 
sweetly with each other. 

1 The Resurrection image, common to many religions. 


I am inclined to think that The Playboy of the Western World has a 
very special place in the history of tragedy; for I see it in some sort 
as a deliberately distorted tragedy, all the joints wrenched out of place 
by a comic vision that Synge imposed upon it, a comic vision in the 
manner of Mohere. If this is true, we may have the real explanation of 
the resentment, distrust and anger aroused by its performance at the 
Abbey Theatre in 1907. It is convenient to recall the overt bases of the 
popular attack: 

1. The play was blasphemous. 

Perhaps this was the inevitable outcome of an Anglo-Irish 
Protestant's attempt to 'imitate* peasant speech, and the 
blasphemies which are ambivalently pious and humorous. 1 

2. It showed Irish womanhood in an unbecoming and indelicate 
light as pursuing their men, in the manner of Shakespeare or 
Shaw and described in improper language: such as 'the drift of 
chosen females standing in their shifts itself'. 2 

3. It showed the inhabitants of an Irish village in the West as pre- 
pared to welcome, and to protect, an avowed murderer. 

But the very violence and incoherence of the popular attack suggest 
that there may be other reasons than these. 

Now it has not, I think, been noted that the Playboy contains in 
itself a number of the formal qualities of traditional tragedy. 

The hero possesses, or acquires through the story of his parricide, 
a Promethean virtue in his destruction of the jealous old tyrant'; who 
is, moreover, about to force him into a loathed marriage. The murder 
has been accomplished with a heroic strength and precision by 'the 
gallant orphan that cleft his father with one blow to the breeches belt'; 
and a legend of Herculean strength is born. 3 The Playboy has become 
a mock-epic figure. His story is received and approved by an audience of 
men and women, like a Greek Chorus. The women present him with 
the standard heroic situation, the offering of the apple to the virtuous 
and virile hero. And Christy confirms the probability of his story by 

1 'Is it killed your father?' 'With the help of God I did, surely, and that the Holy 
Immaculate Mother may intercede for his soul.' 

* It is not quite clear whether the offence was in the shift or in the drift. The latter word, 
not wholly familiar to an English audience, is applicable to a small herd of cattle, especi- 
ally heifers. 

8 Especially if we have seen the tool used, a 'loy' : a narrow spade used for digging 
potatoes. Cf. Samson and the jaw-bone. 


his achievements in the village sports; which come conveniently, like 
the funeral games, to convince everyone of his prowess as the slayer 
of a tyrant, the supplanter of his father, the inaugurator of a new and 
heroic race to be bred upon a publican's daughter: 

It's many would be in dread to bring your like into their house for to end 
them, maybe, with a sudden end; but I'm a decent man of Ireland, and I 
liefer face the grave untimely and I seeing a score of grandsons growing up 
gallant little swearers by the name of God, than go peopling my bedside with 
puny weeds the like of what you'd breed, I'm thinking, out of Shaneen 
Keogh. 1 (He joins their hands ) A daring fellow is the jewel of the world, and a 
man did split his father's middle with a single clout should have the bravery 
often, so may God and Mary and St Patrick bless you, and increase to you 
to this mortal day. 

In all these speeches the ironic verbal comedy, so close to peasant speech 
and yet so definitely twisted from it, prepare us for the catastrophe: 
for the comic resurrection of the slain tyrant father (itself the most 
dreaded of dreams), and for the dissolution of the heroism which the 
Playboy's rhetorical imagination had built up. The hero vanishes, the 
son is reconciled to his father; our interest, in so far as it is tragic, is 
transferred to Pcegen, with her Didoesque lament: 

O my grief, I've lost him surely. I've lost the only Playboy of the Western 

We can best examine Yeats's practical contribution to Irish tragedy 
in six plays: The Countess Cathleen, On Baile's Strand, The Player Queen, 
Calvary, Purgatory, The Death of Cuchulain. The selection may seem 
curious; but it is designed (within the scope of this essay) to illustrate 
the changing positions that he took up. The first three were designed 
for, and acted in, the Abbey Theatre: that is, for a normal audience; 
the remainder for the small and eclectic audience in which he had come 
to believe as a result of the double stimulus of the Noh plays and his 
disappointments at the Abbey. 

The Countess Cathleen takes its plot from a French story, its char- 
acterization from Yeats's need for projecting something of himself and 
his situation into the play, and its resolution, perhaps, from the audience 
before which the play was to be presented. The theme of the selling 
of souls for gold, of a heroine sacrificing herself for her people, is 

1 The reversal of the image from horse-breeding is not, perhaps, always apparent to an 
English audience. 


straightforward, without a hint of the complex motivation of the 
Faust stories that might allow its roots to touch ordinary humanity. 
For that reason it is lacking in human interest, 1 its pity and terror held 
at a distance to be mirrored in superb flashes of lyricism which are 
never wholly assimilated to the action. It has therefore something of 
the remoteness of a Victorian verse-drama, and corresponding in- 
effectiveness as pure tragedy. There is no room for conflict in the 
heroine's attitude to death; her choice was inevitable; and there remains 
only a lyricism that suggests, faintly, the ending of Shelley's Cenci, 
overcast with the Celtic pre-Raphaelitism of the iSpo's. On analysis 
it becomes strangely heterogeneous, with many borrowings: 

Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel; 
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes 
Upon the nest under the eavc, before 
She wander the loud waters. Do not weep 
Too great a while, for there is many a candle 
On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel; 
Who sang about the dancers of the woods 
That know not the hard burden of the world, 
Having but Breath in their kind bodies, farewell! 
And farewell, Oona, you who played with me, 
And bore me in your arms about the house 
When I was but a child and therefore happy, 
Therefore happy, even like those that dance. 
The storm is in my hair and I must go. 2 

And the famous ending, the reception of the Countess's soul at the 
hands of the Virgin Mary, has neither the elegiac quality of the 
Marlovian ending, nor the resigned fortitude of the Stoic. It is not 
quite clear why it should be ineffectual: perhaps it was indeed an 
inorganic conclusion in deference to its audience. But whether or not 
this is so, the ending did not save the rest of the play from the severity, 
and even the savagery, of popular criticism. 

The Sohrab and Rustum theme is the centre of On Bailes Strand. 
It is handled in a manner which, while it owes something to Shake- 
speare, is original and effective. Like most of Yeats's plays, it is too 
short to allow for any development or true interaction of character; we 
may argue that the poet neither desired, nor was capable of, these 
things, lacking (at this stage of his poetic career) what Aristotle called 
a 'happy gift of nature', as well as Keats's 'negative capability'. Instead, 

1 Except as we consider it in relation to Maud Gonne and Yeats. * C.P., p. 47. 


he has to rely on the poetry to carry through a basic situation in three 
classical movements, reverse, recognition and catastrophe: a situation 
which is powerful enough in its own right to retain its significance and 
its irony; linked in this respect to the prophetic witch-song of the 
women. That and the Lear-symbolism of the Blind Man and the Fool 
serve the extension in meaning; nor does the supra-natural intrude 
beyond the credible. Cuchulain believes that he has no son: 

I think myself most lucky that I leave 
No pallid ghost or mockery of a man 
To drift and mutter in the corridors 
Where I have laughed and sung. 1 

He swears the oath of allegiance to the High King Conchubar; goes 
out to fight the invader, kills his son, and dies fighting the waves: 

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread 
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea. 
Heart's mysteries these; and yet when all is said 
It was the dream itself enchanted me . . . 2 

It is pertinent to inquire the place of these 'heart-mysteries' in the tragic 

The Fool and the Blind Man of the opening are not merely devices 
for the purpose of exposition, or for their place as symbols of two 
aspects of personality The Fool is the friend of the Witches who work 
the final madness upon Cuchulain; the Blind Man has lived in Aoife's 
country and was blinded Tor putting a curse upon the wind'. And wind 
and wave are the dominant symbols of the play; so much is clear from 
the Women's Song; which picks up, too, the theme of Odi et Amo at 
which the Blind Man has hinted in the exposition. And a further depth 
is given by the hint that this drama is in a sense a repetition of a previous 
action by Cuchulain's own father. 3 He is offering the young man, his 
son, gifts of friendship, and shows him his cloak: 

My father gave me this. 
He came to try me, rising up at dawn 
Out of the cold dark of the rich sea. 
He challenged me to battle, but before 
My sword had touched his sword, told me his name, 
Gave me this cloak and vanished. It was woven 

1 C.P., p. 256. * The Circus Animals' Desertion. 

8 Cf. the play Purgatory, discussed later. This cyclic or spiral repetition of doom is one 
of the commoner ways of inducing the sense of the enclosing circles of tragedy. 


By women of the Country-under-Wave 

Out of the fleeces of the sea. O! tell her 

I was afraid, or tell her what you will, 

No; tell her that I heard a raven croak 

On the north side of the house, and was afraid. 1 

But he kills his son: recognition conies at the mouth of the Blind Man. 
Cuchulain dies fighting the waves, on which we can place such 
symbolism as we will; the imagined enemies that confront a man in his 
obsession, popular hostility towards the poet-hero, life and sex. It is 
both dolphin-torn and gong-tormented. 

Our measure of this play as a tragedy depends on a number of 
factors: how far we can assume a knowledge of the basic myth and 
accept it as an archetypal situation, of that tense relationship between 
father, mother, son; how far we can accept imaginatively the detailed 
symbolism of, say, the feathers of the hawk; the feathers which are all 
that the Blind Man leaves to the Fool of the fowl they have stolen; 
the feathers on which Cuchulain wipes his sword clean from the blood 
of his son; the countcrpointing of death and hunger (remembering 
Odysseus, and Caliban's 'I must eat my dinner'); the Fool looking 
backwards at the fighting of the waves before both go to rob the ovens 
of the great. It is a little strained if we are not prepared to study and to 
sympathize with Yeats's method. If we do, it becomes, in its kind, 
good tragedy. 

The Player Queeti has not, perhaps, received the attention it deserves. 
Many tragedies have been written about poets. 2 Yeats alone has 
brought to the play a peculiar mixture of sardonic levity, esoteric 
symbolism, and a passionate pleading for the place of the Poet in 
society. It is unique among tragedies in that it is compounded of ritual 
elements (the play within a play), stylized figures, a series of complex 
allusions unicorn, witchcraft, the mysterious Old Man who brays 
like a donkey when the King's dynasty changes, the Rabelaisian flood 
of erudition in the mouth of the drunken poet Septimus, the Queen's 
saintly and futile devotion to Saint Octema, and Dcuma's song, that 
illuminates her whole character and purpose. It is unique among 
tragedies in that it represents the triumph of pure evil, and the destruc- 
tion by woman (who takes her sexual revenge upon him), and by 
society, of the inspired poet. It is difficult to read and more difficult to 

1 C.P., p. 268. 

* Perhaps the most famous, and to modern readers the most ridiculous, example is 
de Vigny's Chatterton. 


act: when both difficulties are overcome the play acquires a strange and 
sinister life of its own. 

I think we could argue that The Words Upon the Window-Pane is the 
only example of a modern tragedy that employs the supernatural, not 
as an accessory, but as the centre of the plot. Again the scale is tiny, the 
characterization negligible. It is born out of political considerations, 
as Yeats tells us in the Preface; and this accounts in some measure for its 
power, since there is always the intense pressure of the personality of 
the dead. 'In Swift's day men of intellect reached the height of their 
power, the greatest position they ever attained in society and the 
State . . .' That the dead should re-enact their passionate scene is the 
centre of The Dreaming of the Bones and of Purgatory, and m Swift's 
voices, and in Stella's, there is something that is neither temporal nor 
personal, but the shadow of an epic destruction of a whole race and its 
values: charged with a peculiar vehemence by the dramatist's sense that 
past and present were converging in Irish history. 'No character on the 
stage spoke my thoughts'; and perhaps it is because of tins that this 
play, and Calvary, acquire on the stage a peculiar life of their own; 
which in the study lies dormant under the stiff flattened prose. If we 
can suspend initially our disbelief, the play reveals a counterpointed 
rhythm of a special kind (perhaps we glimpse something of the kind 
in Richard III), where death and life speak from a medium's mouth, 
and 'all about us there seems to start up a precise inexplicable teeming 

Purgatory is of particular interest as a tragedy; not only as having 
received Mr Eliot's eulogy for the quality of its verse, but because, 
with Synge's Riders to the Sea, it affords the best example in the 
language of the compressed or 'miniature' tragedy. Further, its narra- 
tive component is larger than we are accustomed to consider possible; 
yet it retains sufficient action for its own dramatic purposes. It suffers, 
perhaps, from the disadvantage that we must accept Yeats's theory 
that past actions are re-created by the dead in time; once this is granted, 
the tragedy fulfils all the classical demands upon it, in spite of the very 
large element of narrative in the composition. 

We are concerned with a dialogue between an Old Man and a boy, 
his son: they arc watching the ruin of a great house, which has suddenly 
become a blaze of light. It is the wedding anniversary of the Old 
Man's mother; who had married a drunken groom, and died in child- 
birth. As they watch, a window lights up, showing a young girl stand- 
ing at it; the bride is waiting for the return of her man, half-drunk 


from the public-house. The Old Man has killed his own father: he is 
watching his parents' bridal night being re-enacted in the ruined house. 
He can hear the horse-hoofs on the avenue as the bridegroom returns. 
His son, who can hear nothing, thinks he is mad. It is important to 
quote at length in order to give some idea of the quality of the 

Old Man. It's louder now because he rides 
Upon a gravelled avenue 
All grass to-day. The hoof-beat stops, 
He has gone to the other side of the house, 
Gone to the stable, put the horse up. 
She has gone down to open the door. 
This night she is no better than her man 
And does not mind that he is half-drunk, 
She is mad about him. They mount the stairs. 
She brings him into her own chamber. 
And that is the marriage-chamber now. 
The window is dimly lit again. 

Do not let him touch you ! It is not true 

That drunken men cannot beget, 

And if he touch he must beget 

And you must bear his murderer, 

Deaf! Both deaf! If I should throw 

A stick or a stone they would not hear; 

And that's a proof my wits are out. 

But there's a problem; she must live 

Through everything in exact detail 

Driven to it by remorse, and yet 

Can she renew the sexual act 

And find no pleasure in it, and if not, 

If pleasure and remorse must both be there 

Which is the greater? 

I lack schooling 
Go fetch Tertullian; he and I 
Will ravel all that problem out 
Whilst those two he upon the mattress 
Begetting me. 1 

At the end of the play the Old Man has killed his son, with the same 
knife with which he had killed his father in the hope that his action 

1 C.P., pp. 685-6. 


will stop this train of dreams, terminate this terrible doom to re-enact 
the crime. But it is useless; the sound of the horse-hoofs returns: 

Her mind cannot hold up that dream. 
Twice a murderer and all for r\o thing, 
And she must animate that night 
Not once but many times! 


Release my mother's soul from its dream! 
Mankind can do no more. Appease 
The misery of the living and the remorse of the dead. 1 

The tragedy is enhanced by the ancillary images throughout the play; 
themselves fortified by Yeats's usage elsewhere, by their part in his 
personal mythology, but even more by their archetypal character. 
There is the ruined, or the burning house; 'the shadow of a cloud that 
falls upon it'; the bare tree, stripped of leaves by the thunderbolt; the 
knife that killed now used for a dinner; the ever-mysterious sound of 
the horse-hoofs that move, as always, through the human mind with 
their message of foreboding and terror. 

The Death of Cuchulain is interesting because it shows, in a small 
compass, the final reduction to its essence of the Noh type of play, 
Yeats's final embodiment of the theme of sexual revenge and of the 
Severed Head, a drawing together of personages from the heroic 
legend, and a counterpointing by ferocious comedy and song. In the 
Old Man's Prologue there is the last statement of Yeats's desire for an 
intimate and understanding audience, and of that ambivalent theme of 
hatred and love, its tragedy and tragi-comedy; the place of the ritual 
of the dance to state or resolve conflict. 'I could have got such a dancer 
once, but she has gone; the tragi-co median dancer, the tragic dancer, 
upon same neck love and loathing, life and death/ 

The plot is simple: Cuchulain is set between three women, Emer his 
wife, Eithne Ingula his mistress (who brings a message from his wife), 
and Aoife, the Scottish Queen upon whom he had begotten the son he 
had killed on Baile's Strand. But as he talks with Eithne, the Morrigu, 
the crow-headed war-goddess, appears: by that he knows that he is 
about to die. Aoife, the mother of his son, appears, and binds him to 
the stump of a tree by her veil. He is killed by the Blind Man who has 
heard that there is a price of twelve pennies upon Cuchulain's head: 
with the knife that he keeps sharp 'because it cuts my dinner'. 

1 Ibid., p. 689. 


The ending, given the acceptance of its strange mood, is effective. 
Following the dance of the Morrigu about Cuchulain's head, the stage 
darkens slowly: there follows* the music of some Irish Fair of our day', 
with three ragged musicians with pipe and drum. The song they sing 
starts with bawdry, the harlot's song to the beggar-man ; and we may 
speculate (but give no answer) as to why bawdry may often have, as 
it were, a chemical affinity with moments of high tragedy. The second 
verse slides into the Easter Rising, Yeats's identification of himself with 
Cuchulain, that heroic mask; passes to the statue, which the action of 
the play has shadowed forth: Cuchulain bound to the stump of a tree, 
dying, with the crow perched, watching him, beside. 1 And in this 
song, though we perceive them only with labour, the symbols crowd 
together: birds that arc souls, the harlot and virgin, hero and beggar, 
the Blind Man who brings death, the horse from the sea, the delicate 
veil of woman's power. 

The work of O'Cascy includes the only examples of merit in the 
genre of realistic tragedy produced in the Irish Theatre. They are, 
perhaps, unique in being the product of a native but strictly limited 
genius responding to the actuality of a limited and perspicuous war, 
in an environment (that of the Dublin tenements) with which he was 
familiar; but condemned to work without having had any literary 
training, or aware of any steadying tradition. The speech of that 
environment, well enough adapted for comedy, was by its nature of 
insufficient resource to become an instrument for the higher moments 
of tragedy. It is a crude and violent theatre, highly competent in its 
handling of situation and in its understanding of comic relief; so much 
so indeed, that the Dublin audiences appeared to have concentrated 
their interest upon the 'recognition' and approval of its comic types. 
It is possible that such an attitude was to some extent a defence 
mechanism against the rawness of their recent memories of the 
'Troubles' and the Civil War. 

The first, and most famous of the plays, is Juno and the Pay cock. It 
has a strong photographic element: the background of the tenements is 
accurately portrayed, and the tone of the opening is skilfully counter- 
pointed between the comic, the vulgar and the tragic. It is made clear 
that this is in some sense a continuation of the Easter Rising, not an 

1 The symbolism here is familiar: the best known example being, perhaps, Mantegna's 
Agony m the Garden. 


isolated episode. The neurotic son, Johnny, with all his pitifulness, is 
a 'heroic' victim: 

Mrs Boyle. I don't know what's goin' to be done with him. The bullet he got 
in the hip in Easter Week was bad enough, but the bomb that shatthered 
his arm in the fight in O'Connell Street put the finishin' touch on him. I 
knew he was makm' a fool of himself. God knows I went down on me 
bended knees to him not to go agen the Free State. 

Mary (her daughter). He stuck to his principles, an', no matthcr how you may 
argue, Ma, a principle's a principle. 

And this is parodied, in the Shakespearian manner, by the 'principles' 
of Johnny's drunken and worthless father. The tragedy of war and of 
self-delusion is brought home swiftly, and given depth, by the false 
news of the legacy and Mary's love affair with Bentham, that collapse 
together before Johnny is taken out to be shot by the Irregulars for 
having betrayed his comrade. And if the prose at its moments of 
tension sounds sentimental and forced, we may note that such senti- 
mentality is entirely in key with those who speak it. There is a shadow 
of Synge's rhythms, the West of Ireland vulgarized by the East: 

Mrs Boyle. . . . Maybe I didn't feel sorry enough for Mrs Tancred when her 
poor son was found as Johnny's been found now because he was a Die- 
Hard! Ah, why didn't I remember that then he wasn't a Die-Hard or a 
Stater, but only a poor dead son! It's well I remember all that she said an' 
it's my turn to say it now: What was the pain I suffered, Johnny, bringin* 
you into the world to carry you to your cradle to the pains I'll suffer 
carryin' you out o' the world to bring you to your grave! Mother o* 
God, Mother o' God, have pity on us all! Blessed Virgin, where were you 
when me darlin' son was riddled with bullets, when me darhn' son was 
riddled with bullets? Sacred Heart o' Jesus, take away our hearts o' stone, 
and give us hearts o' flesh! Take away this murdherin' hate, an' give us 
Thine own eternal love! l 

The first world war is the background of The Silver Tassie, its waste 
of spirit and body. Its realism is crude and violent, but is interesting for 
the scene in France set against the background of a ruined monastery: 
in the foreground a soldier lashed to the wheel of a gun, undergoing 
field punishment, and reflecting the figure on the crucifix. The scene 
opens with an invocation to the gun in position against the monastery, 
and continues with an intonation of the Ezekiel dry-bones passage, in 

1 Contrast this with the digmty of Maurya in Riders to the Sea. 


reverse. The invocation to the gun gives some idea of O'Casey's 
methods, and of the limitations of his verse: 

Corporal (singing). Hail cool-hardened tower of steel emboss'd 

With the fever 'd, figment thoughts of man; 

Guardian of our love and hate and fear, 

Speak for us to the inner ear of God! 
Soldiers. We believe in God and we believe in thee. 
Corporal. Dreams of line, of colour and of form; 

Dreams of music dead forever now; 

Dreams in bronze and dreams in stone have gone 

To make thee delicate and strong to kill. 
Soldiers. We believe in God and we believe in thee . . . 
Corporal. Remember our women, sad-hearted, proud-fac'd, 

Who've given the substance of their womb for shadows; 

Their shrivel'd empty breasts war-tinselled 

For patient gifts of graves to thee. 

The Shadow of a Gunman which also deals with the theme of the 
Irish 'Troubles' is realistic in treatment, but without the skill in plot or 
the freshness of Juno and the Paycock. The Plough and the Stars has the 
same background, but is more cogently constructed. It is clear that 
O'Casey is a writer of limited experience and still more limited 
negative capability, with a certain rough skill in counterpoint. The 
moral values are clear; 'patriotism is not enough', the deadly power in 
Ireland of the dream embodied in rhetoric; the inchoate character of 
popular 'war' emotions; the suffering of the women for the arrogance 
and stupidity and vanity of their men. It fails to become great or 
moving tragedy because it possesses no inner core, because it seeks to 
achieve depth by mere counterpointing of emotions, and because the 
speech cannot encompass the emotions which it seeks to express. 
There is a deliberate forcing of O'Casey's characters into a language 
which is admirable for low comedy, provided the actors can achieve 
its peculiar intonations, but which has no flexibility to cope with pity 
and fear. And perhaps the lesson is that tragedy based on such history 
must either be of vast scale (perhaps of the nature of trilogies) so that 
a wider pattern may be discerned in it; or else embody some system 
of references or projection, to give it universality. For the mood of 
those times has been caught better in the short story or in the lyric: 

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare 
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery 


Can leave the mother, murdered at her door, 
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free; 
The night can sweat with terror as before 
We pieced our thought into philosophy, 
And planned to bring the world under a rule, 
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole. 1 

It will be seen that I have called this chapter 'The Irish Tragedy* with 
a double intention: for we can perceive, in the workings of the form, 
so many reflections of historical and social conditions. There is the 
bending of a national will to an effort, comparable to that of the ages 
of Aeschylus, Calderon, or Shakespeare; an attempt to throw off, once 
and for all, the dead weight of the Shakespearian form; the prospect 
at least of a popular imagination that might have proved itself fiery and 
magnificent and tender; a dramatic theory that had at least a vision; 
and place in the stream of history that offered ample material on which 
a tragic theatre might be based. For its chosen poet it had one of the 
two great figures of the first half of the twentieth century. It is therefore 
instructive to reflect upon its failure. 

There are, I think, two main reasons for this. The quarry of peasant 
experience and corresponding speech was a small one, and could not 
be worked for long. The experiences were limited and profound, of 
the nature of those that Wordsworth wished to find in the North. But 
while they knew sorrow and exaltation, there was little complexity 
to match their century; and indeed the peasant quality became rapidly 
stereotyped and exploited in the lesser followers of the Synge technique. 

There is also the disparity between playwrights and audiences: their 
philosophy and tradition. Before an audience can be moved in tragedy 
it must share with the tragedian a sympathy born, not necessarily 
of a common religion, but a common agreement as to the kinds of 
qualities that go to make men great. Provided that the rigidity of a 
religious framework docs not obscure, or criticize with an unbalanced 
destructiveness, this common thought, it becomes possible for the 
dramatist to communicate and to move. But before he can com- 
municate fully he must share with the audience some common stock 
of imagery; or at least have their trust and sympathy to such an extent 
that he can impose upon them his own. 

These conditions were not fulfilled in Ireland; perhaps because its 

1 Yeats, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. 


traditions of revolt and liberty were spun too tenuously on words, but 
more probably because of the lack of any true community of thought 
between its poets and its people. Its tragedy was seldom if ever free to 
question the ultimates in the only manner by which a synthesis could 
be presented. A suspension of disbelief in the supra-natural might only 
be excited cautiously, and within that narrow circle of literature that 
might be considered respectable (because of its antiquity) by the 
Roman Catholic Church. The gulf that opened between Protestant 
men of letters and Abbey audiences was enough to ensure that the line 
between acceptance and corrosively vulgar comment was always pre- 
carious, and ceased to be so only when those who were capable of 
leading, but who had not led, were extinguished. The tragedy of 
Ireland offers interesting parallels with its history. 


Mr Eliot's Compromise 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope 
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing, wait without love 
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith 
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. 

East Coker HI 

All things fall and are built again, 

And those that build them again arc gay. 

YEATS: Lapis Lazuli 


ON general grounds it would seem that no writer of our time showed 
greater promise of producing the supreme examples of twentieth- 
century Tragedy. The equipment of a great poet, of a carefully-poised 
and conscientious critic of literature, awareness of the European tradi- 
tion, and a strong religious sense; these would seem to complete the 
resources of a writer in a warlike, various and tragical age. He has, 
in his criticism, told us more of his attitude, ideas, and technical experi- 
ments than any writer in history. No one since Arnold has been a more 
courageous protagonist for 'our most important and fundamental 
beliefs'. 1 He has put into practice, and defended, the technique of the 
'poetic prose* dramatist; his pronouncement is so important that 
extracts must be quoted: 

For I start with the assumption that if poetry is merely a decoration, an 
added embellishment, if it merely gives people of literary tastes the pleasure 
of listening to poetry at the same time that they are witnessing a play, then 
it is superfluous. It must justify itself dramatically, and not merely be fine 
poetry shaped into a dramatic form. From this it follows that no play should 
be written in verse for which prose is dramatically adequate. And from this it 
follows, again, that the audience, its attention held by the dramatic action, 
its emotions stirred by the situation between the characters, should be too 
intent upon the play to be wholly conscious of the medium. 2 

The argument here should be noted carefully. 'If the poetry is merely 
a decoration an added embellishment . . . then the audience . . . should 

1 Faith that Illuminates, 1935. a Poetry and Drama, pp. 11-12. 



be too intent upon the play to be wholly conscious of the medium/ 
And Mr Eliot develops this further: 

To-day, however, because of the handicap under which verse drama 
suffers, I believe that prose should be used very sparingly indeed; that we 
should aim at a form of verse in which everything can be said that has to be 
said; and that when we find some situation which is intractable in verse, it is 
merely that our form of verse is inelastic. And if there prove to be scenes 
which we cannot put in verse, we must either develop our verse, or avoid 
haying to introduce such scenes. For we have to accustom our audiences to 
verse to the point at which they will cease to be conscious of it; and to 
introduce prose dialogue, would only be to distract their attention from the 
play itself to the medium of its expression. But if our verse is to have so wide 
a range that it can say anything that has to be said, it follows that it will not 
be 'poetry* all the time. It will only be 'poetry' when the dramatic situation 
has reached such a point of intensity that poetry becomes the natural utter- 
ance, because then it is the only language in which the emotions can be 
expressed at all. 1 

There are other critical dicta that must be taken into consideration 
before we can obtain an idea of Mr Eliot's position. The weakness of 
Elizabethan drama is plainly due to the lack of a convention. 'What is 
fundamentally objectionable is that in the Elizabethan drama there is 
no firm principle of what is to be postulated as a convention and what 
is not': 2 his own search for 'conventions', and the peculiar synthesis 
which he makes, for instance, of the Chorus and of Ritual, are apparent 
in his dramatic experiments. Most important of all, there appears to 
be a separation (which is apparent even when we allow for his own 
complaint 'of having to use the same words for different things') 
between 'thought' and 'thought used for dramatic ends'. Hence the 
attack on the dramatic poet as thinker: 

In truth neither Shakespeare nor Dante did any real thinking that was not 
their job; and the relative value of the thought current at their time, 
the material enforced upon each to use as the vehicle of feeling, his is of no 
importance 8 

And again: 

Mr Lewis, and other champions of Shakespeare as a great philosopher, have 
a great deal to say about Shakespeare's power of thought, but they fad to 

1 Poetry and Drama, pp. 14-15. * Four Elizabethan Dramatists, p. 17. 

1 The Stoicism of Seneca, p. 48. (My italics.) 


show that he thought to any purpose; that he had any coherent view of life, 
or that he recommended any procedure to follow. 1 

We have considered something of this problem in a previous chapter; 
it is sufficient to say that there appears to be a confusion between 

1. philosophy as a system; and poetry that is 'philosophical* as a 
potential component of a system; 

2. the duty placed upon the artist to state a coherent view: when in 
fact his capacity for intensity (by definition intermittent and 
partial) would seem to preclude such coherence; 

3. didacticism which is explicit, and that which is incidental: as in- 
volving, consciously or unconsciously, modifications of attitudes. 

We may suggest that the gap between thought and emotion is not so 
wide as Mr Eliot believes: that bought* is not capable of abstraction: 
that thinking is an activity, not an object; and reflect on the position 
of the Logical Positivist who has evaded the problem of building a 
systematic philosophy by dedicating his efforts solely to the perfecting 
of the building tools before he starts to contemplate the site or the 
materials. Erich Heller 2 has put the matter lucidly: 

To define 'thinking* in such a way that the activity which Shakespeare 
pursued in composing the speeches of Hamlet, or Ulysses, or Lear has to be 
dismissed as 'non-thought', is to let thinking fall into the rationalist trap from 
which it is likely to emerge a cripple, full of animosity against that other 
deformed creature, mutilated in the same operation: the Romantic emotion. 
If thought, stripped of imaginative feeling, and emotion, stripped of im- 
aginative thought, become the dominant modes of thinking and feeling, the 
outcome is the 'Leid-stadt', that insufferable city of sorrows, or the Waste 
Land, in which the spirits of Nietzsche, as well as Rilkc, as well as Mr Eliot 
feel ill at ease. Paradoxically enough, it is precisely this neat separation 
between thought and feeling which has forced, on the one hand, upon modern 
philosophy 'the Absurd* as one of its principal themes; and on the other hand, 
upon modern poetry a degree of intellectual complexity. 

I now wish to isolate certain passages from Mr Eliot's writings which 
seem to me to bear upon the interpretation and evaluation of his 
dramatic work as tragedies. 

1 Ibid., p. 46. The italics are mine. We may quote Erich Heller's comment: '. . . For the 
assumption underlying his essay is that the thinker is interested in the truth of thought, 
but the poet merely in its fitting expression.' The Disinherited Mind, p. 123. 

2 The Disinherited Mind; Rilke and Nietzsche, p. 121. 


1. ... even the humblest Christian layman can and must live what, in the 
modern world, is comparatively an ascetic life. 1 

2. But when I speak of the family, I have in mind a bond which embraces . . . 
a piety towards the dead, however obscure, and a solicitude for the un- 
born, however remote. 2 

3. We need to recover the sense of religious fear, so that it may be overcome 
by religious hope. 3 

4. What I should hope might be achieved, by a generation of dramatists 
having the benefit of our experience, is that the audience should find, at 
the moment of awareness that it is hearing poetry, that it is saying to 
itself: '/could talk in poetry too!' Then we should not be transported into 
an artificial world; on the contrary, our own sordid, dreary daily world 
would be suddenly illuminated and transfigured. 4 

5. Because one has only learnt to get the better of words 

For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which 
One is no longer disposed to say it. 5 

6. I was talking in abstractions: and you answered in abstractions. 
I have a private puzzle. 6 

With these quotations in mind, together with the whole of the 
explanatory apologetic of Poetry and Drama, we can attempt some 
examination of the plays. 

Mr Eliot's statements on Murder in the Cathedral are unusually frank. 
'I had the advantage, for a beginner* (the implications of this are 
interesting), 'of an occasion which called for a subject generally 
admitted to be suitable for verse/ He had also before him, though this 
is not stated, the lesson of Tennyson's Becket, the inconsistencies in 
Becket's character which the conception of a personal hamartia involved, 
as well as the cumbrous love interest and equally cumbrous verse. 
Other advantages were the period costume, the 'serious' audience, the 
religious occasion. A deliberate avoidance of Elizabethan verse and 
rhythms ('The rhythm of regular blank verse has become too remote 
from the movement of modern speech') was balanced by 'some use 
of alliteration, and occasional unexpected rhyme', which helped to 

1 Thoughts after Lambeth. 8 Notes towards the Definition of Culture. 

8 The Idea of a Christian Society. * Poetry and Drama, p. 27. 

* East Coker. 

6 The Family Reunion, p. 92. Until a definitive biography is written, the nature of 
Mr Eliot's 'private puzzle* is not a subject for speculation. 


distinguish the versification from that of the nineteenth century. But 
the problem was solved only for Murder in the Cathedral. 

The success of the play is unquestioned. 'A man conies home, fore- 
seeing that he will be killed, and he is killed.' . . . 'I wanted to concen- 
trate on death and martyrdom/ x The extreme formal compression 
of the play, the selection of the action at its point of ripeness and of 
Becket's maturity, gives the intensity and seriousness that the subject 
demands. The conflict is that between the values of the world and of 
the spirit: as seen by the Chorus of the Women of Canterbury, the 
Four Tempters, the Four Knights, and focused in Becket's own choice. 
And his leading temptation is one of the Christian forms of hubris, 
pride in one's own humility: 

The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason. 

Given its limits as ritual setting, versification, intention, Mr Eliot has 
succeeded in his purpose of a complete integration of the dramatic 
rhythm with the verse. But this very ritualism, this insistence on the 
Word, seems to suggest a use of it (which is even more apparent in 
the subsequent plays) to hypnotize, even to numb, the understanding; 
rather than to fire it to life. The verse has the obsessive swelling effect 
of a Vedic chant, in which the words, opposing each other in the 
paradoxes proper to ritual of a certain kind, and hence perhaps too vast 
for the tragic scale, overwhelm us with a kind of grey cloud: 

They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer. 

They know and do not know, that acting is suffering 

And suffering is action. Neither docs the actor suffer 

Nor the patient act. But both arc fixed 

In an eternal action, an eternal patience 

To which all must consent that it may be willed 

And which all must suffer that they may will it, 

That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action 

And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still 

Be forever stih 1 . 

We could deduce, even if we did not know it from other sources, Mr 
Eliot's intense interest in the Upamshads. The subtlety and close 
texture of the verse (the subtle play on patient-patience, still-still) are 
self-evident: but it is worth while to pause for a moment to consider 
what Eliot is saying through his mouthpiece Becket. 

1 These, and the quotations immediately preceding, are from Poetry and Drama, p. 25. 


In one sense the speech is an expansion, as Eliot understands it, of 
Dante's In la sua voluntade I nostra pace. The intellectual movement is 
perhaps, as a circular structure of opposing diameters; humanity has 
knowledge and not-knowledge; action and suffering are identified, 
and self-exclusive. Both are part of a vast design, like Hardy's 
Immanent will, but through suffering they create that will. Humanity 
is tied to a vast pattern, like the Buddhist wheel: in part passive, in 
part active, in its turning. It is submission in suffering, submission in 
willing suffering which is part of the eternal design. 

Now it would appear that such a doctrine is theologically question- 
able. Any circular structure suggests Determinism; man's strength and 
glory is not merely in submission to the Divine Will, but in the self- 
conquest, and in the sense of exaltation that it brings. Nor is the wheel 
the Christian symbol to-day; we think of the medieval wheels of 
fortune, of the De Casibus, as obsolete conceptions. Nor is a doctrine 
of semi-passive suffering more than a part of the truth. But in this 
attitude we shall, I think, find at least a partial explanation of the plays. 
It is not of any particular interest to accept Mr Eliot's statement that 
The Cocktail Party is a comedy, in the sense that Dante's Divina Com- 
media is a comedy; though to do so would be perhaps to disarm all 
criticism. The traditional elements of tragedy are too strong: nor is there 
the wise passiveness and remoteness that might have turned them into 
'great' or even 'free* comedy. Perhaps it is 'critical'. 1 


The Family Reunion is of peculiar interest, since it raises the questions 
of the possibilities and limitations of the subject-matter as well as the 
method of Greek drama in a modern setting. We have before us, as 
touchstone, the varying successes of O'Neill and Anouilh in that 
technique. Further, Mr Eliot has referred us, somewhat cryptically, to 
the Elektra, just as he has referred to the Ion for the background of 
The Confidential Clerk: we may read into such a reference (according 
to our mood) either an ingenuous alibi for the spectators' inquiries into 
meaning, or a set of references to the older models, of which the 
connections are sufficiently variable, and indeterminate, to allow in- 
dividual interpretation to take its own course; through whatever fogs 
the plot and diction may generate. 

The curse upon the house of Wishwood the word suggests the 
confusion and sinister character of the wood, and the desire of its 

1 1 use these terms in the sense established by Bonamy Dobree in Restoration Comedy. 


inhabitants for the past is the background to the familiar cycle of 
crime, remorse, expiation: by Harry's symbolic departure from Wish- 
wood and the hint through his valet, Downing of his approaching 
death. 1 The Furies who pursue him to Wishwood appear twice at the 
window (the stage direction, The Furies appear, gives an unfortunate 
latitude to producers); but even in the more vivid description of the 
verse they are curiously indeterminate, half-way between ghosts and 
ideas. So in the Chorus 

I am afraid of all that has happened, and of all that is to come; 
Of the things that come to sit at the door, as if they had been there always. 
And the past is about to happen, and the future was long since settled, 
And the wings of the future darken the past, the beak and claws have 

History. 2 

This sense of hereditary guilt, indeterminate, choking, appears in The 
Waste Land', and indeed The Family Reunion is full of echoes of the 
earlier poem. There is, for example, the sinister quality of the seasons, 
the cruelty of the spring, the impression of the sordidness and 
monotony of life. It is not clear whether Harry's crime of murdering 
his wife by pushing her off the deck of a liner is real or subjective: 
the text suggests the latter interpretation, and that the murder is 

Harry. . . . Perhaps my life has only been a dream 

Dreamt through me by the minds of others. Perhaps 
I only dreamt I pushed her. 

Agatha. So I had supposed. What of it? 

What we have written is not a story of detection, 

Of crime and punishment, but of sin and expiation. 

It is possible that you have not known what sin 

You shall expiate, or whose, or why. It is certain 

That the knowledge of it must precede the expiation. 

It is possible that sin may strain and struggle 

In its dark instinctive birth, to come to consciousness 

And so find expurgation. It is possible 

You are the consciousness of your unhappy family, 

Its bird sent flying through the purgatorial flame. 

Indeed it is possible. 3 

1 F.R., p. 129. John Peter has suggested that only in relation to Amy's death can the 
play be called a tragedy. I should contest this view. Harry goes out as if to death. 
* Ibid., p. 69. * Ibid., p 104-5. 


Now this dialogue raises important issues. We admit the fact of original 
sin, our knowledge of it as redeemable by grace. We admit also the 
possibility of collective or cumulative guilt, in families or nations. It is 
also clear that an individual act may focus or precipitate retribution for 
that guilt. But here the moral situation is dependent on two uncertain- 
ties, which are carefully maintained throughout the play: Harry's father 
had plotted to kill his mother, and was prevented by Harry's Aunt 
Agatha. When this is revealed by her, both Harry and she express their 
relief. For, as Agatha says: 

The burden's yours, now, yours 

The burden of all the family. And I am a little frightened. 1 

Now if the murder was committed by Harry it is reasonable that such 
an action should be the trigger which has released the load of guilt, 
and which results in his departure: with a hint of the abnormality of his 
journey. (It is not unlike that of Celia in The Cocktail Party, except 
that Harry will not be a missionary.) But if the murder is subjective 
only, then the sin and its expiation become dramatically confused, 
perhaps even monstrous in their implications. Mr Ehot wishes, justifi- 
ably, to convey the mysterious quality of evil: its many mirrors in the 
many minds of his character. The language in its meticulous flatness, 
its careful juxtapositions, its veiled vclleitics, its echoes from previous 
poems, creates a nebulous swirling of communication: proper to the 
tone and texture of The Waste Land or of The Magi, but, in its cumu- 
lative impact, unsuited to the theatre. A few quotations will serve: 

You do not know 

The noxious smell untraceable in the drams, 
Inaccessible to the plumbers, that has its hour of the night; 

you do not know 

The unspoken voice of sorrow in the ancient bedroom 
At three o'clock in the morning. I am not speaking 
Of my own experience, but trying to give you 
Comparisons in the more familiar medium . . . a 

It seems a necessary move 

In an unnecessary action, 

Not for the good that it will do 

But that nothing may be left undone 

On the margin of the impossible. 3 

1 F.R., p. 106. 3 Ibid., p. 29. * Ibid., p. 34. 


But perhaps the final and most serious objection to The Family Reunion, 
as to The Cocktail Party, is the manipulation of determinism in a drama 
which appears, by intention, to be Christian as to its background, and 
which uses that background for its snatches of ritual. Agatha is the 
priestess-sybil of The Family Reunion, with a humble assistant in Mary. 
Their function appears to be psycho-therapeutic; to induce Harry to 
reveal himself to himself, to accept the Recognition through the 
appearance of the Furies; as the curious trinity of Reilly, Julia and Alex 
determine the destinies of the other characters in The Cocktail Party. 
Agatha speaks for the deterministic view, in accents which suggest the 
oracular priggishness of Reilly: 

I mean painful, because everything is irrevocable, 
Because the past is irremediable, 
Because the future can only be built 
Upon the real past. . . . 

So does the Chorus at the end of Part II, Scene I: 

There is no avoiding these things 
And we know nothing of exorcism 
And whether in Argos or in England 
There are certain inflexible laws 
Unalterable, in the nature of music. 
There is nothing at all to be done about it, 
There is nothing to do about anything. 2 

'There is nothing to do about anything': yet 'the awful evacuation 
cleanses*. The play raises in an acute form the possibility of a distinction 
between the 'great* 'serious* play and tragedy proper. I have considered 
it in this latter category, perhaps unjustly, for Mr Eliot has not claimed 
it as a tragedy: since it seems to me to embody, in structure and 
dramatic device, so many of the traditional elements of the form. It is 
possible that the missing element is the sense of exaltation which is 
communicated under the pressure of defeat or death, that which Yeats 
called joy' or 'ecstasy*. We are aware of a submission to destiny which 
has somehow become alloyed with a pagan view, yet again lacking 
the eagerness and vividness of the Greek world. Man has become 
strangely dwarfed by thinking that he is so. 


The Cocktail Party presents an even more difficult problem. We must 
consider it (however hesitantly) as a tragedy; because of its ritual 

1 Ibid., p. 17. * Ibid., p. 97. 



elements, its atonement for guilt, the sacrificial death of Celia, and its 
religious framework. Superficially, the pattern is clear and symmetrical: 
Edward's wife, Lavinia, has left him. He has believed himself in love 
with Celia Copleston; Lavinia has had, unknown to him, Peter Quilpe 
for a lover. Edward, Lavinia and Celia come into the magnetic field 
of the three mysterious manipulators of the play: Sir Harry Harcourt- 
Reilly, the physician and psychiatrist, Julia the comic elderly aunt of 
the early part of the play, and Alexander MacColgie Gibbs. As a 
result, Celia is sent on a journey and is crucified on an ant-heap by 

She paid the highest price 
In suffering. That is part of the design. 1 

Edward and Lavinia are in some measure reconciled in a common 
responsibility of guilt for Celia's death. 

The play, for all the comedy that occurs most ingeniously and 
spasmodically, is deliberately flattened in tone; and confused, again no 
doubt deliberately, as to the issues raised. (The rhythms of the first 
two scenes of Act I are very different from those of the remainder of 
the play; at first they are vigorous, alive, full of music, but later 
lengthen and become thin and dead. It is possible that the play was 
built upon an earlier draft.) Edward's chance conversation with Reilly, 
at that stage the Unidentified Guest at the party, reveals the latter's 
omniscience. He knows that Edward is only indulging in 

the luxury 
Of an intimate disclosure to a stranger. 

But the disclosure 

Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force, 
Or let the genie out of the bottle. 
It is to start a train of events 
Beyond your control. 2 

It is a startling example of a powerful spring liberated by an apparently 
inadequate trigger: unless we suppose a quasi-divine role for Harcourt- 
Reilly. And though Mr Eliot has told us that some of his critics 

who were at first disturbed by the eccentric behaviour of my Unknown 
Guest, and his apparently intemperate habit and tendency to burst into song, 
have found some consolation after I have called their attention to the 
behaviour of Heracles in Euripides' play. 3 

*p. 163. * p. 24. * Poetry and Drama, p. 31. The pity is the Aktftis. 


But this does not really solve the moral issues raised by Reilly and his 
associates. He has foreknowledge, 1 complete assurance; except, for a 
moment, when confronted by Julia's 

Henry, you simply do not understand 

and the apparent power to impose on others one of the standard 
psychiatric remedies the departure, the new environment. They 
foresee Celia's suffering. She has departed with a pontifical blessing: 
yet, says Reilly, 

And when I say to one like her 

'Work out your salvation with diligence', I do not understand 
What I myself am saying. 2 

Reilly Julia and Alex are apparently metamorphosed in The Guardians, 
and the gap between their characters as they are shown in Act I, and 
subsequently, is not easily explained or bridged. If, as seems to me 
probable, Mr Eliot wished to show, in the play as a whole, the system 
of tensions between the world of the spirit and that of modern society, 
and used these figures to resolve that tension, the attempt (though not 
without precedent in Anglo-Catholic literature) seems to me to be 

Granted that suffering is 'permanent, obscure and dark', granted that 
the burden of the mystery lies heavily on all his characters, is it in the 
nature of tragedy, to express these complexities, not by the exaltation 
of poetic statement, but in poetry so meticulously balanced, in state- 
ments that oppose paradox to paradox and leave, as it were, a resultant 
to emerge, if all goes well, at the discretion of the reader? And if the 
central character of The Cocktail Party is really indebted to Heracles, 
we may be pardoned for considering the play a strange witches' 
cauldron indeed. Reilly, Julia and Alex with their ritual, and their air 
of priest-like assurance in the final act, are difficult to justify except as 
manipulators, and have no interest, as characters, outside that role. We 
seem to be in a world where all the values are grey, where flesh and 
blood perish by a strangely cruel indirect narration, and where the 
planes of value merge into each other. Perhaps this is summed up in 
Julia's words: 

Everyone makes a choice, of one kind or another, 
And then must take the consequences. Celia chose 
A way of which the consequence was crucifixion; 

1 The psycho-analyst was equated with the Deity, in an article in a critical journal, 
many years before the publication of The Cocktail Party. 
*p. 131. 


Peter Quilpe chose a way that takes him to Bolt well; 
And now the consequence of the Chamberlaynes' choice 
Is a cocktail party. They must be ready for it. 
Their guests may be arriving at any moment. 

(Alex leaves the room.) 
Reilly. Julia, you are right. It is also right 

That the Chamberlaynes should now be giving a party. 1 

Celia,the tragic heroine, has neither the stature nor the interest for such 
a role. She alone is virtuous, a symbolic figure whose praises after she is 
gone seem to decrease both her own personality, and perhaps that of 
those who utter these praises. 


We conclude, then, that Mr Eliot, in spite of all his superb technical 
resources, his unique position as the only great poet of this century 
who has been concerned simultaneously with Culture and Christianity, 
has not achieved (and would probably say he has not attempted) great 
tragedy. If, as the latest evidence suggests, he regards comedy as a more 
suitable medium for serious thought, it is unlikely that he will progress 
further on tragic lines. But Murder in the Cathedral must be considered, 
within its range and intention, a great tragic play; and it is pertinent 
to consider, in wider terms, why the other two plays fail in the tragic 
mode; remembering the constituent elements, the 'philosophy* of them, 
Mr Eliot's most strict integrity regarding his own theories of poetic 
statement, and their traditional ritual framework of confession (or 
revelation, or Recognition), atonement, and perhaps absolution. An 
attempt to find what factor or factors may be lacking will therefore 
be of importance in the investigation of modern tragedy. 

Our first criticism would, I think, be that the two plays in question 
are not completely conceived as character in action, revealing them- 
selves and developing what they do as a single organic conception, and 
this is perhaps because the plays, because of their debt to Greek sources, 
tend to be synthetic. The rhythm of the plays, a quality so rightly 
stressed by Mr Eliot, suggests that there is in fact a double rhythm: 
one of the changes in key of the verse, as between narrative, 'character', 
and choric; and one of a rhythm of structure. Both suggest that they 
have been imposed externally, and after repeated revisions. 

1 p. 165. 


One is tempted to say that Mr Eliot is primarily concerned with 
problems of 'states of mind', with the somewhat pessimistic approach 
that these states of mind are, above all, beyond the reach of language, 
however precisely this may, in intention, be planned. We have almost 
a reversal of the Aristotelian dictum: 'For life consists in action, and its 
end is a mode of action, not a quality/ There appears to be an attempt 
to separate the quality from the action. And this may be because of two 
reasons: the conception of quality is, to Mr Eliot, capable of separation 
from the action, because action is, itself, both unimportant and incap- 
able of precise statement: 

All I could hope to make you understand 
Is only events; not what has happened. 1 

And definition of what is beyond definition is left to emerge from a 
series of linguistic paradoxes or oppositions, with a triple value: they 
may allow the emergence of the 'star* of meaning, they evoke an 
atmosphere of a quasi-liturgical type, and they leave the reader and 
audience free to select their own interpretations. The dramatist is 
thereby absolved from responsibility; he has not committed himself; 
the play means to each one what he finds in it. And this half-truth of 
interpretation renders the next step, that of deciding the 'philosophy* 
communicated, still more difficult. 

The religious framework of the two plays appears to be, intention- 
ally, a little narrow, ambiguous, perhaps confused. In The Cocktail 
Party Reilly enjoins his patients to work out their salvation with 
diligence. His power is that of a priest but Julia appears to be above 
him in this strange hierarchy. The ritual of the libation that concludes 
Act II, the words for the kindling of the hearth and for those who go 
upon a journey suggest a magical incantation 2 rather than a Christian 
prayer; Peter Quilpe 'has not yet come to where the words are valid', 
and 'Others, perhaps, will speak them.' Celia's right of choice is no 
choice at all: for Reilly, in his role of prophet-priest, has foreseen her 
death. And the logic of his description of the sequence of events, once 
he has had his sudden intuition that she is 'under sentence of death', 
suggests a curious perversion of reasoning. 3 

1 F.R., 1. 1. Has not Eliot a kind of defeatism about words, a striving for certain nuances, 
yet feeling a certain satisfaction, and safety, in their inadequacy? 

2 A debt to Conan Doyle's The Musgrave Ritual in Murder in the Cathedral has already 
been noted. I do not know the source, if any, here. 

1 C.P., pp. 162-3. 


And yet Reilly's final sanctimoniousness suggests the physician rather 
than the priest: 

If we were all judged according to the consequences 
Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention 
And beyond our limited understanding 
Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned. 1 

For Reilly asserts that Celia Coplestone's martyrdom among savages 
was triumphant: 

As for Miss Coplestone, because you think her death was waste 
You blame yourselves, and because you blame yourselves 
You think her life was wasted. It was triumphant. 
But I am no more responsible for the triumph 
And just as responsible for the death as you are. 2 

It was 'triumphant': but I find no suggestion of triumph or exaltation, 
or of faith, in the carefully toneless verse that adheres so carefully to 
Mr Eliot's intention: 'The audience may be saying "I could talk in 
poetry too!" ' but might well add 'if, indeed, this is poetry'. And he 
continues: 'Then we should not be transported into an artificial world; 
on the contrary, our own sordid dreary world would suddenly become 
illuminated and transfigured.' 3 

Fair enough: but there seems little enough either of illumination or 
transfiguration; only (here and in The Family Reunion) , the tantalizing 
half-heard clues to states of mind so complicated or so imprecise that 
the language, attempting with its precision to match that imprecise- 
ness, appears to lose touch with the very objects of dramatic 

In the foreground of Mr Eliot's world are figures whose lives move in 
a mist of ill-defined guilt, progressing through recognition toward 
atonement, of which the first stages arc discipline and suffering. Their 
guilt, it is true, is, in the traditional manner, ill proportioned to their 
apparent deserts, in so far as these are explained to us; but neither is 
perceivetl and stated and confronted, at or before their departure. They 
are in the grasp of destiny, of a psychotherapist, or of a curse; they move 
strangely across the stage, wrapped in cocoons of their own subtleties, 
inclined to self-pity and the ruminations of the moyen intellectuel. And 
because of what we may think an obsession with suffering we begin to 

1 C.P., p. 164. More simply, 'Use every man after his deserts, and who should escape 

* Ibid. Pot try and Drama. 


believe that it is, perhaps, the only virtue. In the background there 
are the vague apparitions of the historical-supernatural: the symbolism 
of desert, mountain, labyrinth, quicksand, Minotaur terrors for the 
travellers, the Eumenides which are neither ghosts nor hunters nor 
conscience nor the curse on the house, but a. potpourri of all four: moved 
in obedience by the playwright to image the Christian pilgrimage, the 
Calvinist sense of guilt; yet without the pity or tterror or exaltation 
of the Calvinist vision. That is, perhaps, because the protagonists have 
no clear vision of themselves: Mr Eliot's 'recognitions' seem only a 
preliminary step towards self-knowledge: which is to be completed 
by the pilgrimage. 

In the middle ground are the figures who are, again, manipulated 
in accordance with the keen perception of the satiric and pitiful and 
bored mediocrity whose diagnosis was Mr Eliot's peculiar contribution 
in his earlier poetry. 'Od' und leer das Meer'; the spring is cruel; the 
world of the clubman, the bore, the society woman, are unerringly 
betrayed. If, as in The Family Reunion, they speak in chorus, the effects 
are self-conscious and grotesque; on the modern stage the chorus effects 
are, perhaps, only possible for the singing voice (as Yeats used them) 
or when the setting gives credibility (as in Murder in the Cathedral) to 
the ritual chant. If Mr Eliot's formal experiments have proved any- 
thing it maybe that they have shown us the impossibility of concerted 
speech by 'everyday' characters without the formal addition of song; 
that the problem of dramatic speech has not been formally solved; 
that plays must be conceived in terms of characters in action. At the 
root of the problem may be Mr Eliot's own presuppositions: 

What we ha veto do is to bring poetry into the world in which the audience 
lives and to which it returns when it leaves the theatre; not to transport the 
audience into some imaginary world totally unlike its own, an unreal world 
in which poetry is tolerated. 

On this dictum we may ask, without answering them as yet, four 

1. Is poetry in tragedy only 'tolerated in an unreal world*? 

2. Is the tragic world of Ibsen and Anouilh 'so totally unlike its 

3. Is not the work of the dramatist the enlargement of the human 
vision, the reconciliation of its own sense of guilt with that vision? 

4. Were not Synge, and Yeats after him, right to demand of tragedy 
'reality and joy'? 


Perhaps his position can be summed up, and the last question 
answered at least in part, by a final quotation: 

For it is ultimately the function of art, in imposing a credible order upon 
ordinary reality, and thereby exciting some perception of an order in reality, 
to bring us to a condition of serenity, stillness and reconciliation; and then 
leave us, as Virgil did Dante, to proceed towards a region where that guide 
can avail us no longer. 1 

1 Poetry and Drama, p. 35. 


The Transmigration of the Greek 

(Sartre, Cocteau, Camus, Anouilh) 

Ended so? 

Nowise! began again; for heroes rest 
Dropping shield's oval o'er the entire man; 
And he who thus took Contemplation's prize, 
Turned stade-pomt but to face Activity 
Out of all shadowy hands extending help 
For life's decline pledged to youth's enterprise, 
Whatever renovation flatter age . . - 1 


THE shadowy hands of the Greek dramatists have long been stretched 
out over European literature. We can suggest many reasons for the 
dominance of Greek fable or drama in human imagination. Ages that 
regarded classical reading as fundamental to a common education, 
who paid lip-service at least to Aristotle and his commentators, would 
turn mainly through the more accessible Latin to the Greek 
originals. Their value was unquestioned; whether as exetnpla of 
morality (however interpreted) or of the fate of legendary personages. 
In Racine both are significant; with such transposition into his own 
peculiar Roman-French atmosphere as the form and pressure of his 
time demanded. Goethe's Iphigenie, Grillparzer's Sappho, exploit the 
immense emotional possibilities of the fable; Arnold's Empedocles upon 
Etna is no more than a stiff, almost lifeless artefact to justify his own 

The twentieth-century revival of interest in Greek myth and fable 
seems more complex. Part, no doubt, is due to the psychological 
recognition of the archetypes, and the nomenclature of certain of them 
from the Greek: Oedipus, Elektra, Orestes, and the Furies archetypes, 
these last linked to the recurrent image of the Hound. The fables thus 
acquire a new validity in themselves; and can be re-clothed effectively 
on what is basically the same skeleton. And the Trojan War, with its 

1 Aristophanes' Apology. 


related actions, has a mysterious vitality as an enduring symbol in 
relation to our present century: 

The Trojan War was really an attempt to destroy a whole civilization. 
The attempt succeeded. 

Homer always calls Troy 'Holy Ikon'. This was the original sin of the 
Greeks, and filled them with remorse. By their remorse they, the execution- 
ers, were found worthy to inherit something of the inspiration of their 
victims. 1 

But this is only a partial explanation. If such a re-clothing takes place, 
with a partial re-articulation of the bones, a new field is opened for the 
exercise of wit, the perception of metaphysical similarities or dis- 
cordances, and endless over-and-undertones of irony. Out of such 
parallelisms, close or remote, the dramatist can invite his audience to 
find 'meaning' which is usually a synthesis of factors which are, to a 
great extent, set in opposition or paradox. At the same time he can, 
if he sees fit, disarm criticism by denying his apparent intention as 
regards some particular synthesis. He can provide a critical edge, at 
various planes, by explicit or implicit comparisons between the two 
ages; the past whose bones he has discovered, the present where breath 
is upon them. 

But perhaps the matter is more complex than this. The experience of 
two wars has given the ghosts of Greek drama sacrificial blood to drink; 
conquest, occupation, resistance, have helped further to make them 
opaque. The clear-cut form, the symmetrical structure, the progressive 
and even mechanical revelations, have their own specific appeal. More 
than this, perhaps, the dramatists have perceived an opportunity for a 
distancing of perspective, a curious philosophical amalgam in which 
Paganism and Christianity are perceived, abstractedly, in alternate 
opposition or synthesis; and in the successive removal of layer after 
layer of the unknown elements of the situation, a microcosm of the 
discipline towards self-knowledge. 

There are certain disadvantages in the method. The dramatist must 
be close enough to his original to allow similitudes or dissimilitudes 
to be perceived; and he must postulate an audience as sophisticated and 
eclectic as Yeats demanded for his final plays, or as Mr Eliot implies 
by his references to the Alcestis and Ion as shedding light on his mean- 
ing. At the same time the 'modern dress' must be carefully imagined, 
for it can easily become ridiculous. Yet if the dramatist succeeds, he has 

1 Simone Weil, Waiting on God, p. 168. 


at his disposal elements that lend themselves to effects of great delicacy 
and profundity; as well as a ready-made device for universalizing the 
significance of his dramatic statement. That device is twofold. Enough 
of the myth or plot of the original probably lingers in the memory of 
a middle-class audience to give it still some measure of life; and if the 
archetypal situations are indeed basic in our own minds, the conditions 
are favourable. If the dramatist becomes either too familiar or too 
remote, his similitudes too heterogeneous or nachgesucht, his failure 
will be catastrophic. 

But in the French versions which we are now considering the popu- 
larity of the Greek fable would appear to rest on more profound 
reasons. Sartre, writing of the younger generation of French dramatists, 
gives an interesting picture: 

What is universal, to their way of thinking, is not nature but the situation 
in which man finds himself; that is, not the sum total of his psychological 
traits but the limits which enclose him on all sides ... A man who is free 
within the circle of his own situations, who chooses, whether he wishes to or 
not, for everyone else when he chooses for himself that is the subject 
matter of our plays. As a successor to the theatre of characters we want to 
have a theatre of situation; our aim is to explore all the situations that are 
most common to human experience, those which occur at least once in the 
majority of lives. The people in our plays will be distinct from one another 
not as a coward is from a miser, or a miser from a brave man, but rather as 
actions are divergent or clashing, as right may conflict with right. In this 
it may well be said that we derive from the Corneillean tradition. 1 

Now behind this view of the theatre is existentialism: which asserts 
that existence precedes essence. 'L'homme n'cst rien d'autre que ce 
qu'il fait/ If existence precedes essence, then situation precedes char- 
acter. Situation demands of man that he should choose, having a free- 
dom that is perceived within the framework of a deterministic system. 
By his choice, or by a succession of choices, the facets of his character 
are in turn illuminated as the crystal revolves on pivots. 

For our purpose we may note some of the historical debts of 
existentialism: to Kierkegaard's treatment of anguish, sin and liberty, 
in his view of Christianity, and his rejection of all forms of the finite. 
'He who chooses despair, chooses himself in his eternal value*; 2 to the 
phenomenology of Husscrl in contrast to the traditional German 
idealism; to the partial acceptance of Cartesianism. His peculiar 

1 Theatre Arts, June 1946, pp. 325-6. 

2 P. J. R. Dempsey, The Psychology of Sartre, p. 22. 


conception of le niant or nothingness, applies not only to man, but to 
eternal reality. Man, who is ever conscious of this nothingness, is 
subject to fear (that which is directed to the object) and anxiety (which 
arises from reflection on the relationship of the individual to the object). 
Love demands 'the alienated liberty of the beloved'; the lover asks that 
the beloved, without 

seeking originally to be loved, should have a contemplative affective in- 
tuition of the lover, as the objective limit of her liberty, as the ground of 
transcendence, as the totality of being, as the supreme value. Only thus will 
the lover be in security in the consciousness of his beloved. 1 

But this view of love is subject to perpetual defeat (les tehees); from 
which the lover may endeavour to escape by sadism, masochism, 

Human liberty is co-extensive with human existence. To be is to 
act; not to act is to cease to be. 2 We attempt to fill up le nlant in our- 
selves by drawing upon the goodness of the world. In order to act 
we are subject to definite conditions which include 

1. The variety of the courses open. 

2. The evaluation of the good, subdivisible into: 

(a) motives: the state of things at the moment, as they present 
themselves to consciousness. 

(b) 'mobiles', that group of passions, emotions, desires, which 
impel towards an act. 

(c) intentions. 

(d) ends. 

Sartre appears to reach a position that is neither indiffercntisin nor 
determinism. There is always an anterior motive for his decisions; man 
is either utterly free or utterly a slave. 

One other concept may be noted in this bare outline; that ofmauvaise 
foi. This is the lie that conceals the truth from the individual himself. 
It implies essentially a unified consciousness in the individual; for which 
the ultimate responsibility remains with the individual, and is not to 
be attributed to the unconscious as such. 

It may appear at first something of a paradox that Existentialism 
should have emerged from the primitive adventure of the French 

1 P. J. R. Dempscy, op. cit, t p. 43. This point comes out in Anouilh's Eurydice. 
8 Ibid., p. 46. 


Resistance Movement. It is as if the fall of France, Plain's surrender, 
the stark facts of the occupation, and the working of something like 
a cyclic doom, produced the sensation of a complicated and mysterious 
collective guilt. That failure extended through a chain of responsibilities 
which was so long and so twisted that its impact upon the individual 
was perceived as an oppressive and mysterious cloud rather than as a 
clear-cut issue. We may suspect that the issues were, and are, further 
obscured by the French multi-party system, with its Protean changes 
of loyalty and its capacity for giving absolution from responsibility. 
The helplessness of a peasantry confronted with armoured divisions is 
of a peculiarly degraded kind; yet the initial compromise with an 
occupying force is easy, and the enemy may be, as he often was, tres 
correct. Life might (as many pointed out) prove easier under the enemy 
than under the liberators. 1 Against an initial despair, a confrontation 
with the mechanical and mechanized fact, the individual reasserted him- 
self, merging gradually into small groups. The individual mood, since 
it could not be brought to the point of heroism in immediate action, 
and had no predictable ending in time, is more easily sustained by the 
courage of protracted pessimism than by the commoner warlike virtues. 
At the same time the nature of the net is everywhere felt in increasing 
constrictions, as countermeasures to the resistance are put into effect. 
The fear of torture and imprisonment are ever-present. This fear can 
best be prevented from inhibiting action by a kind of perverse accept- 
ance of pain and despair, an intensified and deliberate inspection of the 
physical horror of life as well as of war, and an assertion of the ultimate 
freedom of the individual in all that seems left to him, his right of 

Sartre's Les Mouches is a play of guilt, responsibility and violence 
superimposed on the skeleton of the Oresteia. Argos is afflicted with 
a plague of flies, the symbol of the city's guilt, a retribution for their 
passive complicity in the murder of Clytemnestra. 

... So the people here held their tongues; they looked forward to seeing, 
for once, a violent death. They still kept silent when they saw their King 
entering by the city gates. And when Clytemnestra stretched forth her 
graceful arms, fragrant and white as lilies, they still said nothing. Yet at that 
moment a word, a single word, might have sufficed. But no one said it; each 
was gloating in imagination over the picture of a huge corpse with a shattered 
face. 2 

1 'Never were we freer than under the German occupation.' (Sartre, Lettres Francises.) 
* The Flies, p. 12 (transl. Gilbert). 


Notice the emphasis on a dramatic purpose in the city, the possibility 
of averting disaster by a single gesture, the sensuality of contrast 
between beauty and blood. This guilt leads to a hysteria of confession: 

The Queen is indulging in our national pastime; the game of public con- 
fession. Here, everyone cries his sins on the housetops. . . . But the folk of 
Argos are getting a little tired of these amusements; everyone knows his 
neighbours' sins by heart. 1 

Such a vision of guilt-hysteria is not an uncommon phenomenon in 
a disintegrating society, and is of a piece with the sadistic and maso- 
chistic elements that Sartre perceives. Argos is obsessed wfth its 
relationship to the dead; and at their Festival, where they issue forth 
from their cave at the bidding of the High Priest, the cry of the crowd 
is 'Forgive us for living when you are dead!' It is a parody of the death- 
attitudes of high tragedy: 

Have mercy! Tokens of you are ever with us, we see your faces everywhere 
we turn. We wear mourning unceasingly, and weep for you from dawn till 
dusk, from dusk till dawn. But somehow, try as we may, your memory 
dwindles and slips through our fingers; daily it grows dimmer and we know 
ourselves the guiltier. Yes, you are leaving us, ebbing away like life-blood 
from a wound. And yet, know you well if this can mollify your bitter 
hatred that you, our dear departed, have laid waste our lives. 2 

Elektra alone refuses to acknowledge their existence, and dances, 
sacrilegiously, a gay ritual dance: for an instant the people have a 
glimpse of what happiness might mean. But the essence of the play, 
and of Sartre's neo-stoicism, is in the following dialogue: 

Orestes. The people of Argos are my folk. I must open their eyes. 

Zeus. Poor people! Your gift to them will be a sad one; of loneliness and 

shame. You will tear from their eyes the veils I had laid on them, and they 

will see their lives as they are, foul and futile, a barren doom. 
Orestes. Why, since it is their lot, should I deny them the despair I have in me? 
Zeus. What will they make of it? 
Orestes. What they choose. They're free; and human life begins on the far side 

of despair. 

(A short silence.) 3 

In Sartre's world there is a curious strain of brutality which is at once 
the result of, and the justification for, despair. Character appears to be 
determined by events, and the protagonists are confronted by a simpli- 
fied system of conflicting claims, each of which demands a sacrifice. 
1 The Flies, p. 32. Ibid., p. 44. Ibid., p. 97. 


Zeus is both mocker and the mocked, and out of it emerges a kind of 
neo-stoicism which has a certain fierce nobility. It is without pity or 
charity; its ironic laughter has no extension in time or space. It seems 
to me likely that this is due to Sartre's attempt to divorce thought from 
action. Huts Clos is a drama which takes place when the net has finally 
closed in on the protagonists. They have taken their decisions, and 
there is no return. They arc thus doomed to a struggle against the 
inevitable, and each character is imprisoned in the hell of his own 

A critic has said, I think with justice, that M. Anouilh 'alone among 
modern playwrights is able to wear the tragic mask with case*. His 
plays fall readily into groups. 

The Antigone follows Sophocles closely as regards the plot: except 
that Polyneices and his brother are revealed, not as heroes asserting 
their claims against the tyrannical Creon, but as bullies and scoundrels 
for whom Antigone's sacrifice is, in Creon's eyes, completely unjusti- 
fied. Antigone is the rebel, the heroine of the resistance; who, driven 
into a corner by the sheer reason of the course, asserts her right to 
refuse to accept a compromise, and to die. In accordance with 
existentialist thought the word 'right* is used to mean the action which 
results from any choice which is made in absolute freedom: 

I spit on your happiness ! I spit on your idea of life that life must 
go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they 
smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness provided a 
person doesn't ask too much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and 
I want it now ! I want it total, complete, otherwise I reject it ! I will not be 
moderate. I will not be satisfied with the bit of cake you offer me if I 
promise to be a good little girl. I want to be sure of everything this very 
day; sure that everything will be beautiful as when I was a little girl. If 
not, I want to die! 
Creon. Scream on, daughter of Oedipus! Scream on, in your father's own 

voice ! 

Antigone. In my father's own voice, yes! We are of the tribe that asks 
questions, and we ask them to the bitter end. Until no tiniest chance of 
hope remains to be strangled by our hands. We are of the tribe that hates 
your filthy hope, your docile, female hope; hope, your whore l 

Even in such a brief extract, and in translation, 2 we can see how 
1 pp. 58-9. 

* Though the only available translation is excellent in every way. 


Anouilh has found an appropriate modern idiom, full of virility, and 
flexible: we can see, too, his use of the Greek fable for its ironic values. 
What follows immediately, is also worth quoting; for its psychological 
insight, and for the tragedy of defeat: 

Creon (grasps her by the arms). Shut up! If you could see how ugly you are, 
shrieking those words' 

Antigone. Yes, I am ugly! Father was ugly, too. (Creon releases her arms, turns 
and moves away. Stands with his back to Antigone.) But Father became 
beautiful. And do you know when? (She follows him to behind the table.) 
At the very end. When all his questions had been answered. When he 
could no longer doubt that he had killed his own father; that he had gone 
to bed with his own mother. 1 When all hope was gone, stamped out like 
a beetle. When it was absolutely certain that nothing, nothing, could save 
him. Then he was at peace; then he could smile, almost; then he became 
beautiful . . . 

Anouilh is not an existentialist, though we may see traces of the idea of 
resistance and of the closely-drawn net of circumstances of this theatre. 
His tragedies are meticulously balanced; there is usually the omniscient 
commentator, the Chorus who is in part the playwright in Antigone; 
M. Henri with his mysterious pity and wisdom in Eurydice. In this play 
we see Anouilh's division of human beings into two types; the gross, 
the contented, the sensual, who live like oxen in a stall: and those 
who are rebels, idealists, yet who find in their idealism a kind of 

The setting of the railway station buffet, the theatrical company, the 
sordidness of the love-making of both the children's parents, set the 
tone for a peculiar kind of symbolical realism. The third-rate actors, 
who can make love only in the cliches of their memorized stage parts, 
are made credible by their character, accent, the minute particulars of 
their behaviour. 

Against it all Orpheus' love is sudden, terrifying in its innocence: 

. . . Now everything's changed, for I know you. It's amazing. Suddenly 
everything becomes amazing all round us. Look . . . how beautiful the 
Cashier is, with her great bosom resting delicately on the marble counter. 
And the waiter! Look at the waiter! Those long, flat feet in button boots, 
that distinguished bald head, and that air of nobility, real nobility. It is an 
amazing evening, this! It had to be. . . . 2 

1 Koestler in The Invisible Writing speaks of his own experience in prison: of the peace 
which comes when the crime is known, and the punishment is anticipated 'The neurotic 
type of anxiety in the irrational anticipation of an unknown punishment for an unknown 
cnme.' * p. 94. 


The story of their flight together from their parents, the suicide 
of Eurydice's lover beneath the train, the blackmail levied on her 
by the actor who has had her for a mistress, moves easily to the 
first recognition, Eurydice's knowledge that it is too hard for her to 
sustain herself as Orpheus sees her. In one sense it is the projection of all 
stories of young love beyond marriage, a subject essentially tragic in 
its first phase. In the theatre it usually ceases there, since its reconcilia- 
tion through suffering is not readily adapted to the possible scale of 
time. In the calm that succeeds passion the doubts come, as to Orpheus 
and Eurydice on their marriage-bed in the sordid inn. 

. . . Maybe the bride-bed brings despair, 
For each an imagined image brings 
And finds a real image there . . .* 

It is Dulac, Eurydice's lover, who is the agent of the first recognition: 

What's she like, your Eurydice? Have you to drag her out of bed in the 
morning? Have you to go and snatch the thrillers away from her, and the 
cigarettes? For that matter, have you ever seen her a single instant without 
a fag in the corner of her mouth, like any little guttersnipe? And her stock- 
ings? Can she find them when she gets up? Come on, be frank. Own up 
her chemise was stuck on top of the wardrobe, her slippers in the bathtub, 
her hat under the armchair, and her handbag God knows where. It's the 
seventh I've bought her already. 2 

To which Orpheus can only answer dully: 'It is not true.' But the 
gap between the ideal and the real is too great. 
Eurydice leaves Orpheus, leaving a letter: 

. . . Darling, I am going away. Ever since yesterday I have felt afraid, and 
even when I was sleeping you heard me say: 'It is hard.' I seemed so beautiful 
in your eyes, darling. Morally beautiful, I mean, for I know quite well you 
never found me much to look at. In your eyes I was so strong, so pure, so 
completely yours ... I couldn't ever quite have lived up to it. 8 

She is killed in a bus accident. 

The Fourth Act is an epilogue; full of irony and wisdom; the 
diaiogue spoken between Orpheus' Father, Orpheus and the mysterious 
M. Henri. Orpheus is given his choice; he can regain Eurydice by 

Orpheus. No. I don't want to die. I hate death. 

M. Henri (gently). You are unjust. Why hate it? Death is beautiful. Only 
death offers love its true climate. You heard your father speaking about 
1 Yeats, Solomon and the Witch. 2 p 139. 8 pp. 166-7. 


life just now. Grotesque, wasn't it, lamentable? Well, that was life. That 
buffoonery, that futile melodrama, is life . . .yes, that heaviness, that play- 
acting, is truly it. So go there inside and walk with your little Eurydice. 
You will meet her again at the exit, m her frock all pawed and soiled; and 
you, strange as you arc, will find her again. If you find her, if you find 
yourself, it is a Eurydice immaculate I am offering you, a Eurydice of the 
genuine features that life would never have given you. Do you want her? * 

The work of Camus is mainly of interest for two tragedies, Caligula 
and Le Malentendu. The first may be regarded as a study in the tragedy 
arising from man's attempt to live wholly in accord with the rational. 
Circumstance or destiny becomes a ruthless hostile force, to be met 
and crushed with equal violence and cruelty; it is immoral, and can 
only be countered by immorality, actively planned. We have thus 
what I take to be the only character study in tragedy of a character 
whose integrity is complete, whose actions arc pure: but who falls 
because he is not prepared to compromise with the irrational. Le 
Malentendu has at its centre the image of Sisyphus: 'II faut imaginer 
Sisyphe heureux.' Again man is confronted with a rigid destiny, com- 
plex and inexorable, against which his own hopes and fears become 
ludicrous. The mere fact of existence has in its very essence the seeds 
of man's incessant struggle, not with his fellows, but against this 
perpetual frustration and despair. 


At the root of most of this tragedy it seems that there is one moral 
question which determines its whole character. Man is placed in a 
setting where he is brought inevitably into conflict with one of two 
forces; the jealous mocking tyrannical god who is a relic of obsolete 
religious conceptions, but who lives on, enjoying his own kind of 
malicious pleasure: or a more abstract rigid deterministic system, 
against which man must struggle, but can hope to obtain no more than 
a perverted masochistic pleasure in his own futile suffering. Zeus of 
Les Mouclies is the tyrant of Prometheus Unbound, but without his 
dignity or his setting in time. Human fear is sweet to him: 

. . . et le peur, la imuvaise conscience, out une fumet delectable pour les 
narmes dcs Dieux. 

It seems as if character is determined neither by heredity nor environ- 
ment, but is moulded by the tremendous pressure of events. 

1 p. 184. 


This is a tragedy of confused and evolutionary values, informed by 
a strong fear for humanity. It sees at work an immense capricious 
cruelty. It is perpetually on the defensive, for the highest values it can 
transmit are irony, satire, stoicism. Except in Anoiulh, whose tragic 
vision is continually illuminated by pity, little of positive integration 
or release seems to emerge. It is a tragedy of the most profound interest 
for the contemporary European situation, the record of a mood which 
has swept clean that chamber of the human mind, and as yet has set 
nothing in its place. 


Tragedy and the State 

A state is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and 
this lie creepeth from its mouth: 'I, the state, am the people.' 

It is a he! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a 
love over them, thus they served life. 


The Stakhanov movement must play an outstanding role m the over- 
throw of religion. It signifies a mighty increase in the power of man, who 
is conquering nature and breaking down all previously imposed standards. 
If the scholars of the bourgeois world maintain that there are limits beyond 
which man's perception and man's struggle cannot go, that there are matters 
which a limited intelligence will not perceive, it is evident that under the 
proletarian deliverance from religion the creation of conscious workers in 
a classless society can, with the aid of the latest technical acquisitions, pro- 
ceed to tasks which man, fettered by religion, would never have dared to 
face. In a socialist society everything is free from narrow limits Man can 
learn everything and conquer everything. There is no bulwark which 
bolshevists cannot take by storm. 1 

Man is insecure and involved in natural contingency; he seeks to over- 
come his insecurity by a will-to-power which over reaches the limitations 
of a finite mind; but he pretends that he is not limited. He assumes that he 
can gradually transcend finite limitations until his mind becomes identical 
with universal mind. All of his intellectual and cultural pursuits, therefore, 
become infected with the sin of pride. 8 



FROM the beginnings tragedy has concerned itself with considerations 
that may be called, broadly, political. The Seven Against Thebes, the 
Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Prometheus Bound and Unbound; The Dynasts; 
and Ibsen's tragi-comedy An Enemy of the People; Schiller criticizes 
social oppression in Die Ra'uber and Kabale und Liebe. In the latter play 
the whole setting is one of prejudice and corruption, against which the 
'good* characters struggle in vain. Lcssing's Emilia Gallotti is an attack 
on absolute monarchy, the primeval tyrant, whose victims are guilt- 
less; and we may see much of the drama of the Sturm und Drang period 
in terms of the growth of humanitarian liberalism against an authori- 
tarian rationalism. There is a whole multitude of pseudo-historical 

1 Zarathustra, I xi. 

2 Bulletin of the League of Fighting Godless: cit. Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy, pp. 37-8. 
* The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. I, pp. 190-1. 



plays. The reasons are obvious. One pole of the established type of 
conflict is often formed of a kind of stalactite of petrified law, custom, 
usage, which is in itself challenged and broken by a new order. An 
older variant may be personified in a tyrant-figure, man or god; the 
opposing force has in it elements of heroic rebellion, or of the struggle 
of the Fox against the Lion, or of an epic or despairing martyrdom. 
The balance in this conflict may be weighted in accordance with the 
dramatist's vision. He may hint, as Aeschylus does, at a mysterious 
ultimate power containing both the progressive and regressive elements; 
or perceive, as I believe Shakespeare does, a vast but ragged principle 
of retribution that runs through the cycles of English history. 

The State may be regarded as the perfect abstract protagonist in 
tragedy. It can include among its claims the most powerful stimulatory 
virtues: honour, patriotism, piety, love of tradition, loyalty; it can 
call on the hidden todtentrieb for its mystical defence through blood. 1 
In time of war its claims on truth are absolute in proportion to the 
strength of its censorship; it cannot afford to cry, with Shaw, 'God must 
be fair to your enemies too don't forget that.' Under such conditions 
it develops a degree of absolutism for just so long as certain conditions 
can be fulfilled. The justification of its historical objective must hold 
some hope of amelioration in the future, some moral or material series 
of five-year plans, or more distant beneficent revolutions. It must 
smother or depress criticism as that hope recedes. It must retain 
sufficient hold on the emotional attitudes of its subjects to impose 
sacrifices upon them, with the sullen consent if not the will of the 

The conflict with the State, in these circumstances, can only be one 
of rebellion: Schiller's Die Rauber, Wordsworth's The Borderers. Unless 
the forces of the State can be focused in a single figure, or at most two 
or three, the clash becomes muffled in clouds of abstraction. The 
emergence of the tyrant and the tyrannicide are therefore parts of the 
normal pattern: the Generals' Plot against Hitler is no different in 
principle from Bolingbroke's deposition of Richard II, though an 
Elizabethan would have paled before the sadistic fury of Hitler's 
revenge; and innumerable parallels can be found over the same 
matter of divided loyalties to the hero who may be, whether in 
fact or imagination, upon the downward curve of his trajectory of 

1 This was exploited with the greatest skill in the German marching songs of both 


The whole question has been sharpened and brought to the forefront 
by modern ideological politics. There are perhaps two main aspects. 

The individually-led rebellion against the State has ceased to be a 
practical proposition. In the first place, communications are now such 
that no single assassination can alter the course of modern government 
(although the immediate consequences may be difficult to trammel 
up), as that of Caesar altered the Roman world and its peace. In the 
second, modern warfare is such that, lacking international assistance in 
armaments, rebellion on a national scale, say on the Wilheltn Tell 
model, is impossible. Machine guns, aircraft and high explosives have 
smothered it; men can no longer go out with swords and staves as 
against a robber. 

At the same time internationalism, in the form of dialectical materi- 
alism, has precipitated the conflicts of State versus individual. The crop 
of actual and potential 'traitors' to cither side has grown enormously, 
though not, perhaps, disproportionately to the mechanisms and 
agencies involved. Motivations for 'treachery' range, as far as one can 
judge, through the normal scale found in the literature of the past: 
idealism, vanity, self-pity, revenge, and the various semi-neurotic con- 
ditions that involve men in some kind of apocalyptic vision. We may 
find, in pressing the analysis, elements of schadenfreude, of sadism and 
of masochism, as well as those of the purest disinterestedness. In the 
philosophy of dialectical materialism there is a formal structure which 
appears at first sight to possess an essentially tragic bias. Its reading of 
history is tnadic. Thesis is followed by antithesis and is then resolved 
into synthesis through the dynamism of internal conflict; a process 
which we may suppose to include evil and self-waste as well as the 
ultimate apocalyptic vision. We might, then, expect that Marxism 
would by now have produced, whether directly or as a by-product, 
great tragedy. The personal conflicts described in prose l suggest that 
ample emotional material is available, and that its roots lie deep in the 
subtleties of individual neurosis. 

It would, perhaps, appear as a tragedy of 'liberation'. Its morals 
would be 'realistic' following the Nietzschcans, Neo-Machiavcllianists, 
Syndicalists and Freudians. 'Sin' as such would not be an innovation 
but the survival or 'misuse of habits and tendencies that were incidental 
to an earlier stage of development . . .' 2 Its morality would therefore 
be relativist in relation to a higher end, that of the Revolution. It would 

1 As, for example, in Whittaker Chamber's Witness, or Koestler's The Invisible Writing. 
1 Thelen, op. at , p. 15: quoting Tennant. 


probably follow Rousseau's naive theory that the harmony of nature 
can be restored by compounding the individual will into a general 
will, and this jnight become a central theme. As the second quotation 
at the head of this essay suggests, it will focus mass emotional energy 
by battle-imagery. Our only guide to its probable language is the 
rhetoric of the totalitarian State, for considerations of censorship will 
restrict the tragic writer to the conventions employed for political ends. 
We should expect the language to reflect and embody the rigidity of 
predetermined attitudes, a specific denial of individuality, and a violent 
simplification of moral problems. It would afford again in tcrrm of 
the quotation from The League of the Fighting Godless the supreme 
example of the hubris of man. 

That such tragedy has not yet been written, whereas ideological 
tragedy, under broadly similar conditions, did emerge at the time of 
the French Revolution, is mainly due to the technical difficulties of 
focusing such conflicts down to dramatic proportions, of rendering 
them 'perspicuous* in the Aristotelian sense. The State cannot be 
personified into a series of abstractions, as in Everyman, or even to the 
extent that Hauptmann succeeds in objectifying authority in The 
Weavers. No individual is now capable of being perceived as an 
adequate symbol for it; nor can he embody such collective responsi- 
bility as could be expressed in terms of the stage, except, perhaps, when 
he is working in a unit of the smallest kind. (The central character of 
the hero in the minute Greek city state has already been pointed out.) 
And even if a long and ingeniously directed propaganda has endowed 
him with pseudo-mythological qualities, and sought to confirm his 
significance in the 'Father' role, such assumed qualities can neither be 
stated in terms of action nor analysed in histrionic conflict. 1 Such a 
hero is too remote, too statuesque; he cannot be seen in the light of 
'the minute particulars of mankind', nor can he be depicted (except in 
the final stage of his fall) as having been given such faults as make us 
men. 2 

But beyond and above the complexity of the modern State lies the 
central assumption of dialectical materialism: that 'the essence of man 
is no abstraction inherent in each separate individual. In its reality it 
is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations'. 3 The power of the 

1 The statement may be tested by the imaginative use of the biographical data for any 
recent dictator, as compared with that provided by Plutarch or Holinshcd. 

* The censorship imposed on the private lives of dictators, and the rumours that precede 
their fall, are of interest here. 

3 Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p 198 (Thelcn, nt. p. 37 ) 


individual is denied; as also his right to self-determination, since life 
is interpreted, not as the product of ideas, but of economic circum- 
stances. It is a conception that goes far beyond the type of conflict 
perceived by Toller or Hauptmann, where divergent and responsible 
man emerged even though he was a component of a collective whole. 
Thus, while it might be reasonable to expect that tragedies will be 
written concerning conflicts which will necessarily accumulate on the 
periphery of such ideological situations, we shall not expect the central 
conflicts to be susceptible of tragic statement. 


There remains, however, the larger and less definite question of 
the collective responsibility of the State in the tragedy of war, and the 
place of individual responsibility, within that setting, in relation to the 
matter of tragic guilt. It is a problem presented in an acute form, but 
not satisfactorily solved or resolved, by the Nuremberg Trials. That 
problem was presented by the first World War, perceived initially 
against a philosophical background of liberal optimism, and sub- 
sequently against a drop-scene of bitter and bewildered pessimism. Its 
temper is best assessed by a consideration of the war poetry in the 
period 1916-18. It was followed by a confusion of values based on a 
sense of the temporary quality of evil; much on the lines suggested by 
Herbert Spencer: 

All imperfection is unfl tncss to the condition of existence. This unfitncss 
must consist either in having a faculty or faculties in excess; or in having a 
facility or faculties deficient; or in both. . . . Finally all excess and all de- 
ficiency must disappear; that is, all unfitness must disappear; that is, all im- 
perfection must disappear. Thus the ultimate development of the ideal man 
is logically certain. 1 

Against this we may set the curious mental oscillations apparent as 
an immediate consequence of the first World War, which was to end 
all wars. Civilization appeared to have turned on a hinge. The conflict 
between good and evil receded in the brilliant light that psychology 
and anthropology seemed to have shed. Massacres and disasters caused 
only temporary ripples on the conscience of civilized man, and the 
evasion of responsibility, the refusal to read the signs, is a striking 
feature of the Thirties. A passage from a writer of distinction sums up 
something of the spirit of ennui that succeeded the post-war optimism. 
It was written in 1926. 

1 Social $tatics, Ch. II. 'The Evanescence of Evil*. 


And meanwhile the critical, scientific part of the human mind, all that was 
anathema to Blake, has grown like the genie of an Arabian tale. Amid the 
veering perplexities of our age Science alone sweeps on with its strange 
purposeful blindness, it knows not whither, except that it is assuredly to 
fresh conquests: and childish scientists perfect for our childish society with 
childish indiscrimination toys to amuse it, or to murder. We are enabled to 
hear voices saying across the Atlantic things not worth hearing across a 
room; and to buzz round the globe like flies round a chandelier, without 
knowing any better what on earth to do v/hen we arrive, than the jaded 
Roman noble who had flogged his horses in a whirl of dust across the 
Campagna from Rome to Tiber, and from Tiber back to Rome . . . And 
yet Science is at least alive, while Philosophy mopes and religion mutters. 
This in itself need not matter so much to Poetry; but it does matter to Poetry, 
to all our creative literature, that the thinking section of society has largely 
lost its scale of values and is thence in danger of ceasing to have any values 
at all. 1 

We may, indeed, discern some similarities with an earlier period of 
liberal and rational optimism: 

In the spiritual climate of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nine- 
teenth centuries the terror of a man's exposure to the need for ultimate moral 
or religious decisions could not be creatively grasped, either on the level of 
Greek tragedy or on that of undiluted Christianity, or indeed on the level of 
that unique encounter of both which took place in Elizabethan drama. 2 

There was thus much ground for the deterministic pessimism of 
Spengler, and the dissolution of values was the more insidious because 
of two factors in our thought: the unthinkable horror of future warfare, 
and the general misjudging of the rate of change in society: 

And so what threatens civilization is not war itself or the destruction of 
war, but the changing conceptions of life values entailed by certain types of 
political doctrines. These doctrines directly impinge upon man's ordinary 
natural privileges of living and subordinate themselves to the needs of 
national killing. 8 

It is unnecessary to develop the confused expressions of the period 
between the wars except as they affect the tragic response. So far as the 
Zeitgeist found a possible vehicle in the tragic form, it became either 
satirical, or violent, or sought a passive re-interpretation of the problem 


1 F. L. Lucas, Authors Dead and Living, pp. 279-80. Sec also, for the period 1938-9, the 
me writer's Journal Under the Terror. 

* Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind, p. 41. 
8 Lm Yutang, The End of Living is Living Itself. 


of evil in subjects of a religious nature; viewing them as if evil and 
destruction were incidental rather than inevitable in a mechanistic 
world. At the same time it was clear that Fascist principles, in varying 
degrees, offered some attraction for the poets and thinkers; 1 perhaps 
as presenting a clear-cut and pseudo-heroic solution which exalted 
the Hero in a new guise, without needing to summon either the energy 
or the intelligence to analyse his deficiencies. Only for Yeats the Irish 
Rising of 1916, and its aftermath in The Troubles, swung slowly 
into some sort of tragic perspective, 2 though darkened with prophecy 
as to the coming European catastrophe. 3 The Spanish Civil War might 
indeed be thought small enough in scope, sufficiently clear in its ideo- 
logies, and artistically distanced in time and space, to produce great 
tragedy; with a few exceptions, 4 neither its poets nor its novelists could 
free themselves from personal conflicts to achieve a satisfying work of 

We may pause to reflect on the consequences of wars as they affect 
the tragic impulse. Among the most serious arc, perhaps, an induration 
of the faculty of Pity, since some such protective hardening is necessary 
for the mere living under the mass impact of horror. And in any event 
Pity in modern war must be short lived, for the State may demand 
and enforce the iniquity of oblivion by its propaganda, for the sake 
of trade or of political regroupings. A prolonged or repeated impact 
deadens other virtues, 5 or exhausts their potency. 6 At the same time 
the sense of individual responsibility diminishes through the sheer 
mechanical conditions of a nation at modern war. In its complexity 
the individual is once again diminished in stature by the demands of 
the State; he knows that obedience to its precepts is the price of his 

Both to the Marxist and to the Christian the moral problem was 
re-presented in an acute form. The Marxist theory of history, while 
accepting an economic interpretation of the Fall, believed that man's 
main weakness lay in his corruption by the class struggle. To him the 
human struggle was not essentially tragic; its mystery was explicable 

1 '1 suspect that m our loathing for totalitarianism, there is infused a good deal of admir- 
ation for its efficiency.' T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, 1939. 

1 Easter 1916. * The Second Coming. 

4 One being, perhaps, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls 

5 Consider, for example, the very different reaction of London to the bombings of the 
autumn of 1940, and to those of the spring of 1941. 

4 I have supp'd full with horrors.' We may remember the progressive attempts of 
Jacobean tragedy to produce sonic kind of response through language and situations 
of increasing violence. 



in ecological terms. He approved, at least implicitly, the statement of 
John Stuart Mill: 

All the grand sources ... of human suffering are m a great degree, many 
of them almost entirely, conquerable by human care and effort. 1 

The class conflict would rise to a climax through a catastrophe, and 
thereby purge itself of evil. Afterwards it would move, without 
catastrophe, towards a final state of perfection. And whatever economic 
interpretations were imposed upon the fact of war, the fact contained 
an inexplicable residue which appeared to be Nietzschcan rather than 
Marxist in character. 

To the Christian the recurrent catastrophe presented an insoluble 
problem, which has been expressed concisely by Remhold Nicbuhr: 

. . . the generation of a worse evil out of the ostensible elimination of a 
previous one proves that the question of historical evil had not been con- 
sidered profoundly enough. 2 

And Niebuhr, in the same pamphlet, laid down the condition under 
which such historical processes might be perceived: anticipating in 
some degree the work of Butterfield 3 ten years later: 

The religion of an individual or a generation is the ultimate principle of 
meaning by which men live It is not a set of conclusions which they deduce 
from the observation of the facts of human lite and existence, but the principle 
of interpretation which they use in interpreting the facts, and in trying to 
make them 'mean something', that is, comprehending them as a total unity 4 


The circle returns to the problem of Tragic Man in his relation to the 
State. For material reasons he cannot offer effective resistance to its 
claims upon him unless and until he becomes single-minded in his 
adherence to an 'ultimate principle of meaning' within himself. It does 
not seem likely that such a principle is to be recovered through classical 
or scientific humanism. However strongly man may assert his faith 
in these naive approaches, or in the 'social sciences' upon which so 
many hopes have been built, he is confronted both with the sheer 
multiplicity of the collective experience, and of the residual fact of 
evil which is not explicable in collective terms. 

1 Utilitarianism, Everyman Edn., p. 14. 

1 Europe's Catastrophe and the Christian Faith (1940), p. 12. 

8 In Christianity and History. 4 Europe's Catastrophe . . . , p. 8. 


The by-products of accidie and its allied vices in contemplating such 
problems are sufficiently well known: 

The world of the bored and especially the world of the frightened the 
world of decadence needs an ersatz type of spiritual adventure for the 
titillation of its inner life; and even more than that it needs 'spiritual revolu- 
tions' in order to avoid real ones and to side-track demands for social change. 1 

It is, perhaps, just such a lack of balance between thought and action 
-the balance that all great tragedy consciously or unconsciously pre- 
serves that lies behind Existentialism. It is one of the curious ironies 
of history that the 'philosophy' owes its being, in large measure, to 
the French Resistance Movement. But its influence should not be 
underestimated, since many of its attitudes both derive from, and 
support, the peculiar political, strategical and economic conditions in 
which France finds herself. Albert Schweitzer has directed our atten- 
tion to the cognate but larger issue: 

In modern European thought there is being enacted a tragedy, in that by 
a slow but irresistible process the bonds originally existing between world- 
and life-affirmation and the ethical are becoming slack and are finally being 
severed. The result that we are coming to is that European humanity is being 
guided to a will-to-progress that has become mainly external and has lost its 

World- and hfe-affirmation can produce of itself only a partial and im- 
perfect civilization. Only if it becomes inward and ethical can the will-to- 
progress which results from it possess the insight to distinguish the valuable 
from the less valuable, and strive after a civilization which does not consist 
only in achievements of knowledge and power, but before all else will 
make men, both individually and collectively, more spiritual and more 
ethical. 2 

There remains the question of collective guilt of the State and its 
members for, during, and after a war; and here the metaphysical 
problem is sharpened by the facts of history. From the simplest point 
of view, guilt for the outbreak of war can be seen as focused upwards 
from the people to its oligarchy, and, in the last resort, to the leader of 
the group that takes the decision. 3 The Tyrant-King is responsible; as 
Henry V argues his own responsibility before Agincourt. The common 
soldier or the common people have no choice but to give a faint assent. 

1 Roger Garaudy, Literature of the Graveyard^ p. 25. 
1 My Life and Thought, p. 181. 

* But the spreading of guilt-responsibility among a committee or similar group raises 
special problems. 


They are told that the safety, even the continued life of the State, 
demands it. An important writer on tragedy l argued in 1916 that the 
war was an abnormal impulse of the irrational in face of man's destiny 
as it was in process of emergence from the future. All such progress was 
inevitably accompanied by suffering and sacrifice. Man's ascent must 
be accompanied by the strange and gruesome shape of war. The 
irrational is unleashed; 2 the nation must deny its cultural heritage and 
rush into that hell. Its values are negative, a splitting of the ethical 
substance that is an outcome of the national struggle to live. Positive 
values might emerge out of a new life springing from the suffering; 
a life justified, and secured, by the safety of the State. 

Writing after the war Volkelt denied specifically the possibility of 
collective guilt of a people, but postulated a collective guilt for all 
the warring nations of the West. (It is of interest to note that after 
neither was there any conception of responsibility among the con- 
quered peoples; only a sense of grievance for their sufferings, and 
often a petulant complaint at the slowness of their rehabilitation by 
the victors. This fact constitutes the central problem apart from the 
post-war quarrels of allies of the indecisiveness, which seems likely 
to be emphasized in future, of all modern war.) Volkelt finds in this 
universal guilt responsibility for the tragedy of war. In the last resort 
its cause is to be sought in the dualism of human motive, in the dualism 
of the world and of the Absolute. In the very nature of the Absolute 
there is an intrinsic negative quality, which leads mankind through the 
excesses of the irrational if they are to reach the highest good. 

Yet here is an insoluble dilemma. Without free-will there can be no 
question of guilt, for guilt is rooted in the very concept of free-will. 
Nations, says Volkelt, are driven perpetually to this irrational by the 
dialectic implicit in the world itself. 

It seems unlikely that such a view is entirely acceptable in the 
philosophy of tragedy. To see in the world order the essential dualism- 
is to resign oneself to a Nietzschcan self-destructive pessimism. It is 
the easiest way out of the tragic dilemma of the State, and perhaps the 
only immediately available answer short of a Christian postulate. For 
I doubt whether any nation can avoid the imputation of collective 
guilt in the mere fact of waging war. The individual docs, and can, 
evade responsibility by pleading obedience to higher orders, and by 

1 Volkelt, op. at , pp. 445 et seq 

a Compare Yeats's The Second Coming, the advent of the 'rough beast'. But the images 
of hounds unleashed, or of a hawk cast off, arc also enlightening. 


submerging primary ethical values by an appeal, often transitory in 
character, to the virtues of patriotism and loyalty. These in turn may 
be presented as absolute alternatives to annihilation. Yet there must 
ultimately be some individual in whom responsibility for the issue of 
the orders must rest, and there must be an individual duty to disobey 
such orders, even at the cost of one's own life, when the moral order is 
violated. It is true that the protest may come at differing points; and 
that in war the point of protest will always be lower in the moral scale 
than in peace. Volkclt and Niebuhr are both right in finding, as the 
basis of the situation, a collective rejection of Christian values: but the 
responsibility, the surrender of judgement of the individual is the tragic 

For the problem of Tragedy and the State is no more than the 
problem of collective man, awakened to a new consciousness, seeking 
desperately to adjust himself to his environment. In that setting his 
dominant obsession is fear: 

We were afraid, and fear has left its mark upon us. Afraid of dying, afraid 
of dying as individuals, afraid of dying as a nation, afraid of dying as a 
universe. And the shadow of that fear still lies on us; we arc haunted by a 
terrible dread, explicable but unjustifiable, and dangerous for what may be 
the results. We believe that, if our civilization were to die, it would be the 
end of all civilization. We forget that our own death, however tragic, can 
mean no more than the dawn of a day we shall not see. 1 

Such a view, however morally creditable, is not likely to win more 
than an intellectual assent, for the fear can never be submerged entirely 
because of its roots in the irrational and supra-rational. It is perhaps in 
this refusal to acknowledge and harness these forces that the main 
weakness of dialectical materialism lies. The naivete of its claims can 
be summed up with admirable clarity (in so far as they affect our 
present problem) by two quotations: 

A synthesis of the contradictions of bourgeois economy having come into 
being, these contradictions [capitalism v s. the exploited proletariat] are now 
revealed nakedly as truth and error. Bourgeois philosophy now becomes 
sterile dualism, and it is proletarian philosophy or Marxism which is dialectic. 
But because it is the task of the proletariat, arising from the mode of their 
generation, to solve the problems of human relations and of the gulf between 
knowing and being, Marxism is more than a philosophy, it is a sociology. It 

1 Pierre Bertaux. The Intellectual and Action. (Reflections on OUT Age, ed Hardman, 
P- 45-) 


is a theory of the concrete society in which philosophy , and other forms of 
ideology are generated. 1 

The human mind and its environment are locked in an inexorable 

To rise beyond Hegel's idealistic synthesis, one must sec that the mind in its 
turn is determined by social relations, that knowing is a mutally determining 
relation between subject and object, that freedom is not accident but the 
consciousness of necessity. One must see that if freedom for a man in society 
is the attainment of individual desires, it involves conscious co-operation 
with others to obtain them, and that this conscious co-operation will itself 
transform a man's desires. To see this is to cease to be a bourgeois, and to 
cease to tolerate bourgeois economy. One is already a communist revolu- 
tionary. 2 

The Marxist is thus committed to a tragic struggle in a world in 
which mind is dependent upon environment, and in which desires are 
modified by the act of satisfying them. Even though thought and will 
may be private and personal, they become social as soon as they are 
formulated into a public system of thought. 3 

In this struggle the operative object is the fulfilment of desire: desire 
conceived on a materialist basis, but subject to modification by environ- 
ment and by the social contract reached among the proletariat in the 
course of their warfare, and as a result of their co-operation. We have 
thus a promise of a kind of mass tragedy, of the material will seeking 
to achieve its satisfaction through the annihilation of its opponents, 
whose term bourgeois carries a heavy emotive charge. The Marxist 
is driven to his war by an avowed scries of attitudes as striking as those 
of any Elizabethan 'Malcontent', and expressed in terms hardly less 

To have become a dialectical materialist is to have been subject to ex- 
ploitation, want, war, anxiety, insecurity; to have had one's barest human 
needs denied or one's loved ones tormented or killed m the name of bourgeois 
liberty, and to have found that one's Tree-will' alone can do nothing at all, 
because one is more bound and crippled in bourgeois economy than a 
prisoner in a dungeon and to have found that m this condition the only 
thing that can secure alleviation is co-operation with one's fellow-men in the 
same dungeon, the world's exploited proletariat. 4 

There are echoes here. 

1 Christopher Caudwell, Studies in a DyiVig Culture, p. 255. 

2 Ibid. * Ibid , pp. 247 et seq. 
4 Ibid., op. cit. t p. 256. 


Guildenstern. Prison, my lord! 

Hamlet. Denmark's a prison. 

Rosencrantz. Then is the world one. 

Hamlet. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and 

dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst. 
Rosencrantz. We think not so, my lord. 
Hamlet. Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, 

but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison. 
Rosencrantz. Why then, your ambition makes it one: 'tis too narrow for your 

mind. 1 

The protagonists in the tragic revolution of the world will thus be 
groups dominated by self-interest: their philosophies respectively some 
form of Idealism on the part of the * bourgeois* world vs. the Marxist's 
dialectical materialism. Man as an individual is submerged in a collec- 
tive mass, actuated by self-interest of the least interesting types: con- 
cerned only to defend his property, or to establish himself in a position 
of impregnable security as to his material life. The individual with his 
complexities of mire and blood is flattened and compressed to a 
hypothetical mass mind. It is a conflict of terror, but a kind of flattened 
exhausted terror, in which the fate of the individual has neither 
extension nor significance, only a wild self-preservation in which all 
kind of moral codes are broken without remorse. 2 It will not be a 
tragedy that will offer any view of the world, precisely because it can 
never be distanced from the individual nor mirrored in his sympathy 
with others. It cannot appeal to history or to ritual; it can only look 
forward to the arid Utopia of a collective self-interest, in obedience 
to the values imposed on the individual from without. 

1 n. ii. 244. 

* 'There is no terror and no pity in [Spengler's] acceptance of Destiny, but merely a 
conscious decision for the false values, and this is the classical decision of sm and wicked- 
ness.' Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind, p 152. 


Death in Tragedy 

and it is great 

To do that thing that ends all other deeds, 
Which shackles accidents, and bolts up change, 
Which sleeps, and never palates more the dug. 
The beggar's nurse, and Caesar's. 

Antony and Cleopatra l 

Only the dead can be forgiven, 

But when I think of that n y tongue's a stone. 


Go, knock at the gates of the tombs and ask the dead to come back to life; 
they will shake their heads with a gesture of refusal 


IN most of the tragedies of the world's literature it is assumed that 
death is a natural termination of the tragic fact or experience. The 
Greek drama assumed, at least in its less pessimistic moments, that 
it was the supreme misfortune, to which man came, prematurely, 
through his error or frailty. In other drama it is rare to find 'misfortune* 
in the formal pattern of tragedy without its conclusion in death. Of all 
experiences death has the highest emotional potential; though I shall 
argue later that, of all the social references of tragedy, it is the one 
that has changed most strikingly within the past forty years. We must 
consider the conditions of this emotional stimulus, and its historical 

In the first place death is the most satisfactory terminal point from 
the point of view of the tragic pattern. The circuit closes; the dramatist 
will emphasize, to a greater or lesser extent, the turning of the new 
page, the affirmation of new values, the revolution of the wheel. Such 
new values are often certified, as it were, by recalling the heroic 
qualities of the dead, in whom evil has been expiated. This celebration 
is now largely a social convention, probably of steadily-diminishing 
significance. We have forgotten the origins of such gestures in the 
placating of the ghost. 

1 v. 11. 4. a A Dialogue of Self and Soul. 

18 25? 


But it is clear that the emotions attaching to death in tragedy are 
highly complex. It may be convenient to divide them into two groups, 
though I believe that the two ultimately merge. 

Anthropology tells us l that the death of the king or hero has a per- 
petual ritual significance, conscious or unconscious, with two main 
aspects or values. He dies because there is concentrated upon him, as 
symbol, the necessities of the Birth and Resurrection cycle of the year. 
He dies, often, in his prime, because his virtues (courage, strength and 
so forth) must not be impaired by old age; perhaps because of the 
belief that the souls of those who die in battle arc purer than those who 
die of disease. 2 The violence of the death has probably a number of 
functions from the emotive point of view; blood still cries from the 
ground in a fashion that does not (except after long hardening through 
usage) lend itself to rational contemplation, and it seems likely that 
some dark satisfaction co-exists side by side with the horror. 

But he is also the scapegoat, to whom the sins of his people, or of 
some of the audience, are transferred. 3 We remember the example of 
the criminals made king for a day, only to suffer death for this very 
reason: and the act of the Crucifixion may be perceived as a triple 
ritual sacrifice. 4 The rapid spread of Christianity in the Mediterranean 
Basin has been attributed to its origin in such common rituals and its 
symbolic perpetuation of them. 

Civilized man appears to swing the balance towards the theme of 
sorrow and loss rather than fear. There is a certain decorum in the 
eulogy of the dead, in tragedy as in civilized life. We arc quieted by a 
death so noble: we praise the victims: the funeral procession, whatever 
its dramatic necessity on the Elizabethan stage, remains a powerful 
emotional device: enhanced by the symbolism, crude but not always 
fully perceived, of the torch-bearers who accompany the bier. 6 The 
coffin, variously used, can either be a noble symbol 8 or a mere morbid 
fixation as with Donne; one of Webster's characters, considering a pie, 
thinks of the fowls as 'coffin'd in bak'd meats'. The remembrance of 
the hero's virtues is in part, no doubt, an ancient ritual to avert evil or 
placate the ghost, in part a desire to comfort the bereaved; but good 

1 The classic expositions are perhaps in The Dymg King and The Scapegoat of The 
Golden Bough. 

* The belief is perhaps more common still than might be supposed. Consider Wilfred 
Owen's Into Battle. 

8 See Chapter 8. 4 The Scapegoat. 

5 The ending of Coriolanus may become particularly effective by this device. 

We may instance the synibohsm of Roman Catholicism in the funeral service; and 
the experience, now uncommon, of keeping watch over a coffin through the night. 



may be spoken the more easily when there is an acute sense of relief. 
'Only the dead can be forgiven/ 

These two antinomies of grief and rejoicing exist simultaneously, in 
anthropology and (however disguised) in man's consciousness to-day. 
It is part of the tragic pattern that this latter emotion, in itself mixed 
unequally, should not become apparent in speech or action. The ritual 
must be observed. It is an aspect of our debt to the dead before the 
wheel revolves again. And the attitude is so delicate that it can be 
destroyed by a false step on the part of the dramatist. To a modern 
audience Caesar's glance at the bodies of Antony and Cleopatra 

If they had swallow'd poison 'twould appear 
By external swelling. 1 

seems to us full of bathos, however in keeping with the keen-eyed 
efficiency of Caesar: yet it is doubtful whether a Jacobean would have 
checked at it. But when Shaw, in the Epilogue to St Joan, makes Joan 

Woe unto me when all men praise me ! I bid you remember that I am a 
saint, and that saints can work miracles And now tell rne: shall I rise from the 
dead, and come back to you a living woman? 

he has shattered into fragments the whole tragic ritual. This is of 
course done deliberately, in keeping with the Hegelian presuppositions 
contained in the play and its Preface. In Ghosts, the emotional effect of 
the living death of Oswald set against the symbolism of the rising sun 
(in itself counterparted by the burning of the hospital in Captain 
Alving's foundation) is sufficient to render unnecessary further tor- 
ments of destruction. 

It is a commonplace of our thought that the changes of emphasis in 
Christian dogma never modified the moral and physical fear of death. 
The logic of the medieval Church, but not the emotion of its people, 
made a tragic dualism impossible. So far as may be judged from the 
funeral monuments, the Graeco-Roman civilization contemplated 
death with a distilled purity of loss, and the dignity proper to both 
tongues. The gloom of Hades, the hunger and thirst of the ghost, the 
vigorous joy in life in the present, were sufficiently simple explanations, 
and there is no need to explore the manifold versions and visions of the 
Underworld. But with the Renaissance, the Reformation with its 
immense oscillating tides, and the New Philosophy, the macabre side 

1 v. 11. 392. 


of the Church's teaching found a soil even more fertile than that of 
the fourteenth century with its emphasis on the suffering Christ, 1 
the Stigmata, the ever-recurrent motif of the skull, juxtaposed with the 
hermit, saint, or marriage ceremony. 2 These continue long into the 
seventeenth century, till they are replaced by the nobler symbolism of 
the urn and the flame; and their dramatic handling in Elizabethan and 
Jacobean drama reveals not only the differing tact of the dramatists 
but also the emotional backgrounds of their audiences. 

Now the current of death-imagery, oscillating as it does between 
Christianity and paganism, can be traced with reasonable clarity be- 
tween the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. Our anthology pieces 
would probably include Dunbar's Lament for the Makaris, Bishop King's 
Exequy, Nathaniel Wanley's The Skull, Blair's Grave, extracts from 
the Gothick romances, Poe's decadent romanticism, and In Memoriam. 
Such an anthology would be fittingly illustrated from Diirer, Holbein, 
Domenico Fed (and a host of contemporaries), Hogarth, Blake, Fuseli, 
Landseer, Richard Hughes, and Watts. But we should find in all these, 
and in the selection of elegies to fill the intermediate points, a fairly 
consistent pattern in the attitudes displayed: 

1. A strong faith, real or apparent, in the 'good end', or the holy 

2. A perception of the grave as a meeting place of lover and beloved; 
whether or not such a meeting had a strictly orthodox religious 

3. A fear of judgement, following closely the changes in dogmatic 
theology, the sectarian differences, and the succession of religious 

4. A strong and complex tradition of les pornpes funehres: in which 
pity, awe, pride, and grief are blended in various proportions. 

Equally, the lack of such the unknown or foreign grave, 3 the 
'pathetick' funeral, 4 the animal in its fidelity 5 are powerful 
emotional stimulants. 

1 1 accept, in broad outline, the best account I know: in Theodore Spencer's Death atid 
Elizabethan Tragedy. 

1 1 have in mind Lucas de Heere's painting m the Dulwich Gallery, itself a superb 
commentary on the psychological connections, direct and oblique, between Love and 

8 Macaulay's A Jacobite's Epitaph is a good example. 

4 As in Hogarth's Harlot's funeral. 

6 We may consider, at opposite poles, Landseer's The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner and 
Hardy's poem Who is that digging on my grave? 


It is, I think, possible to date the change in attitude at about 1915-16: 
in relation to the losses at Gallipoli, Ypres, the Somme. (It will be 
remembered that a corresponding change from exultation to cynicism 
is apparent in the poetry of the First War.) Death, being multiple 
and remote, becomes from the family point of view a little unreal: 
and by the time the war cemeteries can be visited the edge of grief is 
gone. 1 Death in battle is a 'queer untidy thing', a intensified in that 
quality by the demands of static warfare. For the same reason a new 
macabre appears to grow up and become accepted as a natural safety- 
valve against the pressure of physical horror, so that we get something 
which appears to be exactly opposite to that of Jacobean drama, where 
horror is often invoked as a direct and fortuitous stimulant, made from 
the teeth outward. The kissing of a poisoned skull is revolting to the 
verge of the ridiculous: the ritual of a certain company in the front line 
in 1917 by which each man shook the hand of a dead body built into 
the revetments as they came in on relief is far nearer the Shakespearian 
macabre, used legitimately to express and to relieve through laughter 
an unendurable tension. 

In the period following the end of the war the change in tradition 
seems to have become permanent, except for the ceremony required 
for the great. The increasing acceptance of cremation, 3 the speed of the 
motor hearse, considerations of expense, arc all contributory factors, 
particularly among the upper classes. Among less civilized peoples or 
even less civilized social ranks, the tradition of the pompcs funcbrcs 
with their nominal Christian ritual partially diNtorted in the direction 
of either a frank paganism or a benevolently neutral pseudo-religiosity, 
still persists. 4 And there is some ground for arguing that a new senti- 
mentality both unbalanced and morbid, that has grown up towards the 
animal kingdom, is a typical emotional compensation for our atrophied 
power of response to human suffering. 

The effect of this on death-attitudes in the tragic experience is of 
some importance. Our 'recognition* of death has become more 

1 Kipling's story The Gardener may be recalled. 

8 Synge's words in Deirdre\ contrast Tennyson's Home they brought her warrior dead . . . 

8 It seems likely that cremation itself cuts out, because of its speed, tidiness, and 'finality', 
some of the traditional, and perhaps healthy, response to the fact of loss. 

4 We may take as examples a funeral at Naples, with its ritual prescribed even to the 
colour of the hearses; and certain American customs as described, for instance, in the 
mortician's journals or in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One By 'benevolently neutral' 
I mean the non-denominational non-committal arrangements of, say, crematorium 


hurried, even furtive, less of a ritual, without allowance for the period 
of mourning in which the wheel starts, slowly, to achieve its new 
momentum. Traditional tragedy still carries its emotional effect un- 
impaired; the tact with which Shakespeare manages his elegiac epodi 
can still be perceived. The carrying-in of Bartley's body in Riders to the 
Sea is perceived as repetition of a formal ritual; the emotional effect 
of Antigone's death in Anouilh's play is reinforced by the double 
symbolism of the Cave in which she is immured. But in general the 
effect of the social processes which I have described suggests a decreas- 
ing emphasis on death as a terminal point, in overwhelming grief, and 
the irreparable loss of a central figure. It is perhaps significant that only 
one great elegy has been written in the twentieth century, 1 and that 
by the Last Romantic. 

Now it may well be that there has been some general gain in all this. 
We have jettisoned a good deal of sentimentality, and something of 
the hysteria of grief by which the living nourish their own ego-centric 
emotions under pretext of mourning, or attempt some shameful com- 
pensation for injury or neglect: 

Only the dead can be forgiven; 

But when I think of that my tongue's a stone. 


At the same time I cannot but think that something has been lost of 
the force of modern tragedy, unless it can recapture and use for its 
purposes the fitting and traditional ritual of death. If there is to be any 
artistic rounding off of that time sequence, I do not see how it can be 
effective except through this means. For it is not only a terminal point 
in the aesthetic experience; it is the only ritual that can mirror the 
complexity of emotions that seek psychological expression at this 
precise point. We may speculate on some of these emotions that seem 
to recur: relief from cumulative tensions; a new hope that is made 
possible by the symbol of the burial of the past; a curiosity as to the 
departure of the soul upon its progress (and this need not necessarily 
be morbid); a common feeling that in the presence of death we are, 
momentarily, 'better', perhaps more open to the numinous; that we 
are spectators of that in which we must, one day, be the actors; and 
even that a mysterious wisdom or clarity of vision is the property of 
the dying, and that those at the death-bed may in some sort share it. 

1 Yeats, In Memory of Major Robert Gregory. 


This group of emotions may be thought of as receiving a cumulative 
sanction in time. In Greek tragedy the hero is thought of, to some 
extent, as having a continued potency in the grave, and may become 
the subject of a hero-cult. He may prophesy destruction, as does the 
aged Oedipus, of the battle to come: 

Upon that day my buried dust that sleeps 

Cold in the grave, shall drink their steaming carnage. 1 

The tnana of the hero is still powerful; he may be a kind of guardian 
or talisman of the land, as well as the exemplar of virtue or of hubris. 
In many of the tragic farewells the Remember me!' of the ghost is 
echoed in the elegiac ritual of its close; as if indeed this faint potency 
of the bloodless ghost is the only immortality which can comfort it. 
Yet the thought of death, as always, touches the lips with fire; and 
Juliet's words but follow those of Antigone: 

tomb, O bridal-chamber, prison-house 
Deep-delved, sure-guarded ever, whither I 
Go gathered to my kin that multitude 
Persephone hath numbered with her dead! 
Last of them all, of all most miserably, 

1 too must follow, half my life unspent. 
And yet I trust to find a welcome there 2 

From the point of view of the spectator, there is a strong emotional 
movement in the direction of a complete moral exoneration. The price 
has been paid, whatever crimes or follies the hero, or any tragic player, 
has committed. The deed is removed beyond judgement, or at least 
distanced until the new order has had time to root itself, and the hero's 
deeds have become part of the historical cycle. The death is perceived 
as an atonement calling down, and diffusing, something that might 
be called grace. And at the same time the tradition brings the hero into 
line with the historical past of all ages, imposing on him a kind of 
timelessncss. The last speeches of Samson Agonistes sum up many of 
these matters: 

Semichorus. But he though blind of sight, 

Despis'd and thought extinguish't quite, 

With inward eyes illuminated 

His fiery virtue rous'd 

From under ashes into sudden flame, 

1 Oedipus at Cohnos, 1. 620. Transl F. L. Lucas 
* Antigone, \. 890. Transl. F. L. Lucas. 


And as an cv'ning Dragon came, 

Assailant on the perched roosts, 

And nests in order rang'd 

Of tame villatic Fowl; but as an Eagle 

His cloudless thunder bolted on thir heads. 

So virtue giv*n up for lost, 

Dcprest, and overthrown, as seem'd 

Like that self-begott'n bird 

In the Arabian woods embost, 

That no second knows nor third, 

And lay ere while a Holocaust, 

From out her ashy womb now teem'd 

Revives, reflourishcs, then vigorous most 

When most unactive deem'd. 

And though her body die, her fame survives, 

A secular bird of ages lives. 

The long decorative excursion on the Phoenix, from one point of view 
cumbrous and artificial, is designed to provide just this slowing down 
expansion and re-alignment of Samson's death into a mythology of its 
own. Manoa continues: 

Come, come, no time for lamentation now, 
Nor much more cause: Samson hath quit himself 
Like Samson, and heroicly hath finished 
A life Heroic, on his Enemies 
Fully reveng'd, hath left them years of mourning, 
And lamentation to the sons of Caphtor 
Through all Philistian bounds: to Israel 
Honour hath left, and freedom, let but them 
Find courage to lay hold on this occasion ; 
To himself and Father's house eternal fame: 
And which is best and happiest yet, all this 
With God not parted from him, as was fear'd, 
But favouring and assisting to the end. 

There follows the famous passage; it is well to recall it together with 
the succeeding lines: 

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail 

Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt, 

Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair, 

And what may quiet us in a death so noble. 

Let us go find the body where it lies 

Soak't in his enemies' blood, and from the stream 


With lavers pure and cleansing herbs wash off 

The clotted gore. I with what speed the while 

(Gaza is not m plight to say us nay) 

Will send for all my kindred, all my friends 

To fetch him hence and solemnly attend 

With silent obscquy and funeral train 

Home to his Father's house; there will I build him 

A Monument, and plant it round with shade 

Of Laurel ever green, and branching Palm, 

With all his Trophies hung, and Acts enrolTd 

In copious Legend, or sweet Lyric Song. 

The epic element, the pride of achieved revenge, and the ceremonial of 
the obsequies, combine to distance Samson's death, and to place it in 
a peculiarly exalted and familiar setting. We may contrast it with the 
weakness of Thcophilus' dying speech at the end of Massinger's The 

I am confirmed, 

Confirmed, you blessed spirits, and make haste 
To take that crown of immortality 
You offer to rne. Death! till this blest minute, 
I never thought thce slow-paced; nor could I 
Hasten thee now, for any pain I suffer, 
But that thou kcep*st me from a glorious wreath, 
Which through this stormy way I would creep to, 
And, humbly kneeling, with humility wear it. 
Oh! now I feel thcc: blessed spirits! I corne; 
And, witness for me all these wounds and scars, 
I die a soldier in the Christian wars. 

It is not merely the pedestrian rhythm and the hackneyed imagery that 
makes Massinger so insipid compared in so far as comparison is 
possible with Milton. In the submission and humility of the hero 
there is a kind of betrayal of the tragic ethos. Is it possible that one 
element of the death-resolution demands for our satisfaction this 
defiance of the gods, this alignment and unification with history, a 
kind of epic challenge? The Hero's record is proud and notable: 

And in the harsh world draw thy breath in pain 
To tell my story. 

And he is concerned that he shall win some healing of his wounded 
name, some sort of immortality in the celebrations of men, with per- 
haps the medieval thought of the cxempla of his story. 'Reputation' 


lies close to the surface of the mind of the tragic hero, for it is of his 
essence, his dramatic dominance beyond the tomb. The last reduction 
of this characteristic, trembling on the verge of the absurd, may be 
seen in the Death of a Salesman. 1 We might indeed argue that this aspect 
of the tragic death is in some sort anti-Christian. Humility and the 
certainty of balances redressed in the next world negative one part at 
least of that steel-cored pride, the appeal to unregenerate man, that lies 
at the heart of our sympathy with the hero. He has erred or sinned; 
the wheel returns; he meets that fate with a pride which is of a peculiar 
kind: it is the direct and inevitable projection of his undefinable 'great- 
ness*. To give way to fear, or to submerge fear in the certainty of a 
martyr's crown, are alien to him. Yet, since the tragic appeal is to men 
like ourselves, this final recognition of this unregenerate component 
appears necessary to produce the highest exaltation. They 'do not 
break up their lines to weep', for their virtues are of another quality; 
nearer to manhood than to godhead, yet creating and communicating 
a value that may be the complement of Christian humility: 'mine 
own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury it upheld me'. 2 

The elegiac formulation of sorrow, plucking what berries it sees fit 
to adorn or nourish its verse, has the effect of enlarging, universalizing, 
stabilizing; both as regards its original quality of sorrow, and its trans- 
mutation into the historical past. When no such continuity is proper 
the death is sudden, violent, a mere episode at the end; though some- 
thing like an apologia may precede that death, as Ivanov's last speech 
in Chekhov's play of that name. Perhaps the ending is in some measure 
conditioned by the social conventions and mechanics of the modern 
theatre. But if the statement of the tragedy is in the main poetical, the 
elegiac relief appears to be essential. The Song of Callicles at the end 
of Arnold's Empedocles on Etna is effective: still more so, because of its 
archetypal significance, the Paver Image at the end of the tragedy of 
Sohrab and Rustum. As a ritual ending we may quote the end of The 
Kings Threshold', showing how the traditional carrying-forth of the 
body can still be accompanied with superbly effective lyric, and how 
the old symbols can be given new vitality: 

Oldest Pupil. Tike up his body, 

And cry, that driven from the populous door, 

1 Arthur Miller. 2 Laiah, Ixm. 5. 


He seeks high waters and the mountain birds 
To claim a portion of their solitude. 1 

(They make a litter with cloak and staffs or use one discovered, 

heaped with food, at tlie opening of the play.) 
Youngest Pupil. And cry that when they took his ancient right 

They took all common sleep; therefore he claims 
The mountain for his mattress and his pillow. 

and, in the last movement 

O silver trumpets, be you lifted up 
And cry to the great race that is to come. 
Long-throated swans upon the waves of time, 
Sing loudly, for beyond the wall of the world 
That race may hear our music and awake. 
Oldest Pupil (motioning the musicians to lower their trumpets). 
Not what it leaves behind it in the light 
But what it carries with it to the dark 
Exalts the soul; nor song nor trumpet blast 
Can call up races from the worsening world 
To mend the wrong and mar the solitude 
Of the great shade we follow to the tomb. 2 

Or the high speech and the terse commonplace can be blended, as in 
the ending of Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows', in spite of, or because of, 
the echoes: 

Fergus. Four white bodies arc laid down together; four clear lights are 
quenched in Ireland (He throws his sword into the grave ) There is my 
sword that could not shield you my four friends that were the dearest 
always. The flames of Ermm have gone out: Dcirdrc is dead, and there is 
none to keen her. That is the fate of Dcirdre and the children of Usna, and 
for this night, Conchubor, our war is ended. (He goes out ) 

Lavercham. I have a little hut where you can rest, Conchubor; there is a great 
dew falling. 

Conchubor (with the voice of an old man). Take me with you. I'm hard set to 
see the way before me. 

Old Woman. This way, Conchubor. 

Lavercham (Reside the grave). Deirdre is dead, and Naisi is dead; and if the 
oaks and stars could die for sorrow, it's a dark sky and a hard and naked 
earth we'd have this night in Emain. 

It is a central paradox of the tragic experience that this contemplative 

1 Compare the bird-images in the passage quoted from Samson Agonistes. 
C.R, p. 143- 


awe, built out of the elegiac mood, can be the final solvent of 
all anxiety. Like the Church's great hymn, the Dies Irae, it works by 
alternations of hope and dread, yet the swan-elegy ends with a sense 
of exaltation, conquest, a blend of pride and humility, a sense of the 
vastness of the forces of the universe, of man's helplessness and intrinsic 
splendour, 'with inward eyes illuminated'. Perhaps the difficulty that 
so many have felt in considering a tragic 'philosophy' to-day lies in 
the absence of any elegiac modulation of the tragic statement. The 
guillotine ending, the pistol-shot on or off stage, the quick curtain at 
the height of the emotional pitch, and the hurried exit after incon- 
sequential music, all contribute to an unsatisfactory emotional turbu- 
lence. There is no need for the elegiac ending to be 'pure', or a formal 
set piece. It can be at its most effective when the minute particulars, the 
trivialities that can carry so much, are woven into it. Lear's 

Prithee, undo this button 

Creon called to a cabinet meeting at the end of Anouilh's Antigone, are 
as legitimate in their kind as the Chorus from the Hippolytus or from 
Samson, or that weeping gaiety that is half-hysteria underlying 

Downy windows, close; 
And golden Phoebus never be beheld 
Of eyes again so royal! Your crown's awry; 
I'll mend it, and then play. 1 

I believe that tragedy must show, and must recover when it has lost, 
the traditional attitudes to death: that the great tragic endings are, in 
the last analysis, the supreme assertions of a unity, a resolution of 
conflict, that can be terminated in no other way: yet paradoxically not 
a terminal, but projecting, out of the re-unification which it suggests, 
the sense of continuity and re-birth. I do not find this in conflict with 
the Christian hope of immortality: rather as of a lesser order, but in 
some sense complementary to that doctrine always excepting the 
Crucifixion and breaking the response to tragedy (when it does) only 
by the clumsiness, vulgarity, or poetic ineptitude 2 with which it is 
stated. A verse from The Wreck of the Deutschland may make this 

Ah! there was a heart right! 
There was single eye! 

1 v. 11. 316. 

1 We might instance this from O'Neill's Strange Interlude. 'Yes, our lives arc merely 
strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the Father.' 


Read the unshapeable shock night 

And knew the who and the why, 
Wording it how but by him that present and past, 
Heaven and earth are word of, worded by? 

The Simon Peter of a soul! to the blast 
Tarpeian-fast, but a blown beacon of light. 

For the tragic resolution in its highest form is aware of immortality 
in a sense to which many Christians would now assent: 

Our 'self, as the container of our whole living system, includes not only 
all the deposits, and the sum of all that has been lived in the past, but is also 
the starting-point, the pregnant mother earth, from which all future life will 
spring; the presentiment of things to come is known to our inner feeling as 
clearly as is the historical past. The idea of immortality which arises from 
these psychological fundamentals is quite legitimate. 1 

J Jung, Die Beziehung zwischen dem Ich und dem Unbewussten Cit. Victor White, 
God and the Unconscwi4s, p. 261. 


Symposium in the Theatre 

AT this point it seemed useful, before attempting to gather the threads 
of this discussion into some pattern, to consider the possibilities of 
checking our speculations by the practical response of some selected 
tragic auditors. A number of men, chosen from among different age 
groups and of widely-differing backgrounds, were invited to set down 
their response to tragedy; cither generally, as to the form, or in relation 
to a specific work either seen or read. Not all were 'professional* 
students of literature, nor had they always a background of reading 
in tragic theory. 

Each contributor is denoted by a letter; which is followed by a 
number giving his age at the time of writing. Where any statement 
appears to be of special interest in relation to what is said earlier or 
later in the book, or is supported or contradicted by other contributors, 
a reference is made in a footnote. The italics are mine. 

A. 32. To speak truth, I've been in such a welter of conflicting opinions that I 
doubted if I could produce a coherent picture of tragedy that was also con- 
sistent with what one knew of tragedy. *A spirit passed before my face: the 
hair of my flesh stood up . . .' l that doesn't help much except to suggest 
that one's personal reaction is so instinctive as to make one despair of ever 
formulating that reaction in intellectual terms. 

One thing I have observed which has led me on to other conjectures, 
namely the absolute isolation of the tragic protagonist. Whatever one thinks 
of Mrs Aivmg, Hedda or Rosmer, at one end of the scale, or Shakespearean 
tragic heroes, or Antigone, Elcctra and Oedipus at the other, they are all 
alone . . . 

The protagonist makes a journey into tragic reality and this has to be made 
alone, since neither the experience nor the nature of his perception can be 
shared by the other characters who are involved. Is it not also true and 
illuminating that the spectator or auditor is also alone with the tragic 

1 'A', as will be observed, has a strong Christian background His sense of the numinous 
appears elsewhere. 



characters he sees or hears? You will recall Johnson: 'He that peruses Shake- 
speare looks around alarmed, and starts to find himself alone/ l And does not 
this constitute a fundamental difference between Tragedy, which remains to 
be defined, and Comedy, which is a social activity? 

I take this 'aloneness' to be the essence of Aristotle's terror and to this 
extent the term seems to me to have a general application to tragedy. One 
can, I think, journey further on these lines. For instance, the nature of the 
tragic experience is at first sight, chaotic. Chaos does, in fact, come again; 
and now, God-hke, the tragic hero is forced to re-create order, a new order, 
out of chaos before he meets his doom. Incidentally, Webster's characters 
consistently fail to do this, 2 to achieve this equilibrium, 8 which is why I 
think he fails as a tragedian. The terror of the first part of this cycle is nowhere 
more poignantly caught than in Lear's determination 

O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven 

This is his Gethsemane. 

To the extent that one is alone with the protagonist in his tragic experience 
what might (I suggest) issue in spirits less finely touched as self-pity is trans- 
muted into the nobler emotion of pity directed away from the centre of self 
towards the tragic hero. This I'm sure does happen if the play, and the 
performance, is fine enough. (Forgive the personal evidence that Devlin's 
'Lear' moved me to quite unashamed tears.) 

The difficulty about the nature of the individual, personal tragic experience 
I take to be this: it is clear that the experience of 'chaos-come-again' is 
intensely personal 4 and that its nature cannot be exphcably stated. Thus the 
dramatist has resort, almost invariably, I think to symbolism and imagery. 
Think of the complexity of symbol, the welter of imagery m, for example, 
Shakespeare and Ibsen, or, for that matter, Yeats. This is the fire through 
which the tragic hero passes. 5 Its nature is, I think, that of a mystical ex- 
perience only truly comprehensible by others with the same order of experience * 
yet still capable of utterance at a level of poetry which, while it taxes to the 
utmost the resources of the auditor, may take him to the very brink of the 
experience itself. 

And resolution is, it seems to me, achieved in utter and lovely simplicity. 7 
What is gained is perspective, a new order of a strictly personal kind, a 
perception, if you will allow it, of the nature of things as they may seem 

1 Preface to Shakespeare. * Agreed. But why, exactly? 

8 Probably he is thinking of Ellis-Fermor's essay in The Frontier* of Drama. 

4 It may well be that the definition of what constitutes the chaos has grown steadily 
more personal since Elizabethan times; when there was at least a consensus of opinion 
as to what constituted order. 

6 Perhaps A perceives the interior conflict as expressible only in these 'images'. 
* Here he raises a vital problem 

7 Almost certainly he is thinking of the cadenced-endmgs of Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, 
The Cenci. 


from a distance, denied to those, who, like the tragic hero, are condemned 
to live among the fever and the fret. 

When the tragic storm blows itself out, order is restored. The damaged 
tissues of life re-knit, and the cycle of normality 'birth, copulation and death* 
begins again, probably because the necessary sacrifice has been made. (I 
think that the essential sterility that prevails during the tragic phase is worth noting.) 
That we are regenerate, so to speak, is important to us, the audience, rather 
than to the tragic hero, since we must somehow be released to return to those 
levels of existence which we normally inhabit. The tragic hero, of course, 
has already won his release, and has effectively added to the sum total of 
human wisdom l by bearing witness to an order that is above the chaos which 
has begun the cycle of destruction. Incidentally, I think it dangerous to 
identify the chaos with evil as some do since on the evidence of Lear, to 
say nothing of others, that is the nature of the cosmos itself. 

And we, the audience? Well, Aristotle was right enough, I think, to 
postulate Pity and Terror (would not 'Dread 5 be a better word as having 
specific connotations 2 ) Pity transmuted to a universal; terror, or dread, in 
the face of what is possibly the nearest that many of us are likely to approach 
to the Godhead. 8 And I wonder whether the statement 'whosoever will lose 
his life shall find it* has not some bearing on the problem. 

This reflects back again on the dramatist, too. Shakespeare has, I feel sure 
(like Sophocles), experienced the tragic storm and emerged on the other side. 

Neither Webster nor Tourneur gives this impression. And Ibsen never seems 
to me to emerge from the chaos of his own experience, which is why I think he is 
almost always his own tragic protagonist , the catharsis never achieved like D. H 
Lawrence in another genre. His experience is never reduced to that releasing order 
that constitutes a statement of hope and not despair 4 

Against this we may set a more clear-cut and limited response, which 
lends some support to the joyful safety* idea. 6 

B. 2}. After seeing a tragedy I want to seek company of some sort, either in 
conversation or in writing enthusiastically. None of the subjects mentioned 
needs necessarily to be connected with the tragic theme. This seems to me a 
heightened version of the mental stimulus I possess after a game of chess or 
bridge. Rarely do I feel 'This could have happened to me' I think this is 
because although the events may resemble actual life, the conative part of 

1 We must, of course, question this, or explain it. 

Probably we want a word between Fear and Dread, yet with (strongly religious 

1 Consider Karl Barth and Otto on this subject. 

4 This is a remark of considerable acuteness, and probably contains the clue, if we 
could carry the analysis further, to explain the 'inadequate* tragedy. 

6 See p. 14, ante. 


my sensations is cut off, since I am not an actual participant but a spectator 
abstracted from the action and sitting securely in my theatre seat. 1 Tragedy on the 
stage never seems to produce in me any sense of the confusion which results 
from the necessity for immediate action (though I often feel this after a good and 
moving sermon),* and thus 3 the resulting emotions are clear but not strong; 
I can identify myself vicariously with the pity and terror of the action in the 
knowledge that I can 'unhook* myself when I want to. The combination of 
imaginative and actual life produces a loquacity and relieves my mind by compelling 
me to discuss any subject I can, often flippantly.* I feel this too after many pieces 
of music and especially after an opera, but I rarely want to indulge in tumul- 
tuous applause, only to talk. If the subject is the tragedy itself, this is purely 

C. 22 is brief and definite; for him the tragic experience is a general 
extension of sensibility. He owes a good deal to Wordsworth. 

For myself there are two mam reactions that are uppermost in my ex- 
perience of tragedy. 

Primarily I experience a sense of vision, a feeling of harmony within my- 
self extending consciously outwards; a sense of vision that is a frequent 
reaction to all great art. It is partly, no doubt, a sense of 'thusness'; a note is 
struck in the mind and the spirit that opens a door, and perhaps it could be 
merely a mathematical delight in the particularly and triumphantly apt. 5 I 
think it is more than this. It is not the content of the vision that matters 
for me it has no moral, no picture so much as the capacity that is given to 
see deeply into the heart of things. Wordsworth's lines have for a long time 
had a wider content and application for my own experience than the mere 
description of the effect of nature. 

[Here he quotes the 'burthen of the mystery* passage from Tintern Abbey.] 

It is then a capacity to see deeply that is the content of the tragic vision, 
a vision not so much of a man but of Man as a species. 6 While its spell lasts, 
I see deeply and for that brief moment it would be impossible to act or feel 
merely human. 

Secondly there is the delight, mingled with perhaps an element of horror, 

1 Consider, in relation to this, the Johnsonian position: 'The truth is, that the spectators 
are always in their senses, and know from the hrst act to the last that the stage is only a 
stage, and the players merely players' (Pref. to Sh.). 

a A confession of some interest. Cf. 'Longinus', 'a marvellous instrument which pro- 
duces passion, yet leaves us free'. 

8 This is a typical response to any release of tension: but is of some interest in con- 
sidering the problem of technical 'relief of various kinds in dramatic structure. 

4 This loquacity is a typical outcome of any release from tension (cf. the normal ex- 
perience dunng psychiatric treatment). It is also of some interest in relation to the flood 
of words loosed by some of the comic-relief characters in Shakespeare. 

8 This looks like a straight response to the formal qualities of tragedy. 

8 Cf. Shelley: 'Man, O not men! a chain of linked thought 
Of love and might be divided not.* 



of having our emotions manipulated for us along unfamiliar channels of 
feeling and experience, though to a goal which we know to be inevitable. 
Part of us seems to say 'How long, O Lord, how long?' and yet another 
part of us clutches at feeble hope. Perhaps this time lago will not succeed, 
perhaps Lear will not go mad. 1 We know, however, that the goal is fixed; 
the ritual sacrifice must be made. These words often echo round my mind 
when I see a tragedy: 'It is expedient that one man should die for the people.' 
Connected with these words is a sense of necessity, the necessity for a saving 
death and its inevitability both in the dramatic and the human context. Only 
in death do the great tragic heroes really gain wisdom and in the adulatory 
speeches that follow their end, there is a sense that not only is the hero purged 
but that all around him are purified also. 2 The peaceful ending and the note 
of sober joy is partly relief, partly a determination to start afresh and rebuild, 
now that the ruins are cleared away, partly the sense of wisdom that such 
purification brings. 

C. 30. An airman, with a distinguished war record, has set out his 
thoughts in a violent and staccato fashion, with a wide range of 
literary reference. He finds that Tragedy has Dante's Three Subjects 
Love, War and Death in common with poetry: substituting 
'Conflict' for 'War'. 

It is immaterial whether the individual is struggling with men, gods, fatal 
fears 'or anything else*. Reading, witnessing or being involved in a tragedy 
has at its best 3 a moral effect. It may only be momentary, 4 but it is basically 

Bear in mind Mencius' proof that mankind is fundamentally good or at 
least potentially good and, at heart, compassionate. 5 At the best, our 
faculty for compassion, commiseration, is exercised. 'Music is to the soul 
what exercise is to the body.' The same with tragedy. In general I find films 
more moving than the theatre principally because of the music* Music by itself is 
probably just as effective. (Myers reaction to music 'felt in diaphragm'.) 
The reactions to tragedy are legion from sadism upwards should be, ideally, 
one of partial identification it is related somewhere to the mystics, con- 
scious both of misery and joy. (Cf. Huxley's 'mystic ground'.) Yeats in the 
tea shop, and anyone else's experiences. (Cf. W.James, Varieties of Religious 

1 An interesting description of a process which is familiar at all times of crisis, but 
which is probably less common in the theatre. 

* This is truer of Greek and Elizabethan drama than of modern. One reason may be 
that the minor characters are not separated from the protagonists by such a wide gap, 
whether of sympathy or mere stage 'distance*. 

8 But he does not define what this 'best' may be 

4 Compare with the 'flashes of insight' perceived by other contributors. 

6 Consider pp 14, 78, ante. He has been reading I. A Richards, Mencius on the Mind. 

6 Compare B's response to opera, p. 273, ante. And docs this statement give a clue to 
the effect of music in the Greek Theatre? 


Experience.) Samuel Johnson always knew it was a stage but not a book. 
Not surprising when one remembers the style of acting. How would he have 
fared with, say, Kean, or a good film? He was sensitive to music, and resisted 
it. Nor could he bear readily the climaxes of Greek tragedies. Starts to find 
himself alone, etc. 1 

The spectator could get a certain exhilaration that is not far removed from 
the real-life fractional moment of the same thing at an actual crisis 'Ha ha 

in the midst of the trumpets,' 'You , I'll get you,' in war, games, playing, 

sailing in storms, rock-climbing: moments of challenge with physical danger 
(either near or in the background). It is something to do with the 'Individual 
vs. Destiny.' The little man: cf. Chaplin. The pity element vs. forces of good 
and evil. We partly associate ourselves, unknowingly. The unsophisticated 
completely identify themselves, and shout from the gallery 'I'll save you!' 
to Desdemona and the village maiden. In some ways it moves the spectator 
more. The participant is often inspired or 'out of himself ', 2 or loses any sense 
of identity (cf. Keats: 'I am Achilles in the trenches,' etc. but Achilles was 
probably 'lost' at the time of action 8 though not before. The nervous 
tension is probably the same, very nearly, m life or as a spectator.). It has 
something to do with a feeling of helplessness when one is actually in the 
fray it all may become mildly comical. 4 . . . Compare this business of loss of 
identity with real concentration, etc. This is also related to the 'Revolution- 
ary' or the 'Romantic', 5 the stoicism or indomitableness of the 'Classic': 
the man at the Bridge, or Marathon, or the rearguard action in the Khyber 
Pass. The life of Service? Hopeless, but not helpless (again more to see than to 
be). Any tribute to the spirit over the flesh. Does this lead to a realization of 
spiritual and moral values? There is a connection with ' A.E.'s* dictum over the 
Dempsey-Tunney fight: 'How can these men earn more money in an hour 
than any creative artist?' Answer, because deep down we all recognize (i) 
strength, (2) courage. We all know that ideally we would be strong and 
courageous, physically and mentally. 6 This is borne out by the literary men 
and their yearning for action, etc. . . . Back again to 'the one against the 
many', etc. 'Ah, that is he! that should be me also were I a man.' Recognize 
that we all desire to face disaster with romantic or classical resistance. The 
Socratic example onwards. Refusal to bow to a malignant destiny, even 
though it has to be accepted. 

1 This was a point that A made much of. See p. 270, ante. f 'LonginusY ecstasy. 

8 Consider 

Know that when all words are said 

And a man is fighting mad, 

Something drops from eyes long blind, 

He completes his partial mind . . . 

YEATS, Under Ben Bulben. 

4 Again a familiar aspect of the relief of tension. 

8 Schiller's heroes are good examples. 

* Hamlet: 'Yet have I in me something dangerous.' 


The self-mastery that all the best people have ('not passion's slave', etc.) 
and which we all recognize when we see it. The 'masterful administration of 
the unforeseen', 1 perhaps? Even though it may be only a passive acceptance 
or passive resistance? Stoic acceptance Marcus Aurelius & Co. Christian 
resignation 'in la sua voluntade & nostra pace*. (The great accent is one of 
the legion of influences at a show. I doubt if it enters much into real life. Under- 
statement is the thing there.) 2 Spiritual strength above and through fear into 
the next stage suicide out of pride, as opposed to depression. (Antony and 

What, in general, of pre-natal influence? The conversion of the sea 
rhythm, vibration, movement, music life, light, sound, molecular physics, 
the ebb and flow the wheel turning full circle the pitcher broken at the 
fountain man goeth to his long home. 8 

Suffering in tragedy must be sporadic if we have supped too full of 
horrors we cease to get any reaction the struggle becomes slaughter. To see 
one person, bird, shot is struggle, to a see a thousand is boredom. Neverthe- 
less, the compassion is exercised initially. What about not giving a damn 
about crashing an aircraft is this escapism, or boredom, or being beyond 
pity into stoicism and resignation? All these, perhaps. Mass slaughter could 
lead to breaking up through hydraulic pressure. A cup can hold no more 
than its capacity. Under pressure the emotional cup breaks. 4 

The mechanics of fear should be considered. Hesiod's 'learning through 
suffering' appears to be generally true. Vicarious association with the faults 
of the hero. The harrowing experience that makes or breaks. (Physical 
version is the Glasshouse and the soldier.) 

Metaphysical symbols sea, bird. Is the dove of peace a love-symbol? 
Flight, the faculty denied of man. Dove spirit Holy Ghost? Moves at will. 
Sea-birds resting on the sea. Sense of guilt on killing a bird Coleridge and 
T. H. White. 5 The nearest creature to the sun = heavens. 6 

The chastening effect of suffering see Hesiod. Physical suffering 
patiently borne, etc. 'Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief but man 
not the master of things. Is there not a reliving of personal experience? 'a 
little depression is good for us' (Butler). It is essentially the spectator who is 
moved. Compare 'One impulse from a vernal wood' with one impulse from 
the Old Vic. boards. The Sermon on the Mount and Paul to the Corinthians 
are perpetually being re-stated. 

1 Bridges, The Testament of Beauty. 

a But cannot the 'great accent* exist in understatement? 

* Cf. Chapter 12, 'Those Masterful Images . . .' But pre-natal only in one sense. He is 
quoting from Ecclesiastes xij 

4 True. But it is hard to determine its capacity for an individual or for a given time. A 
good example, though I do not think the writer had this in mind, is the dropping of the 
teacup by the medium at the end of The Words upon the Window-Pane. But the image may 
be the golden bowl, or the pitcher at the fountain, of Ecclesiastes. ^\{ 

8 Probably T. H. W.'s England have My Bones. 

' I do not think he had read Miss Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns. 


E. 2p. The writer is a philosopher, with a classical background. 

Why do we get enjoyment from tragic art? I take it that the paradox that 
seems to be lurking behind the question is connected with the idea of tragedy, 
especially literary tragedy, as being doleful and dreary. This question is one 
that is no doubt peculiarly pressing on myself, since I am a hedonist in 
philosophy, and hold that the only thing ultimately and directly valued for 
itself is pleasure. This is not the place for a philosophical disquisition, but let 
me say in brief that most of the apparent paradoxes and absurdities associated 
with this view seem to me to disappear if one (a) takes 'pleasure* in the widest 
sense, and (4) remembers the extraordinary variety in the different things 
found pleasant by different people; the fact that A takes pleasure from source 
X may be quite incomprehensible to B, who takes pleasure from the opposite 
and incompatible source Y. 1 

With regard to the unhappy ending, I am inclined to treat it as a means 
rather than as an end. It would be generally admitted that such an ending is 
not a sufficient condition for a good tragedy, or we could put down our 
Shakespeare and just look at the nearest Police-Court column: is it a necessary 
condition? The Oresteia would generally be counted as a fair example of a 
tragedy, but it ends with the purging of Orestes' sin on a note of reconcilia- 
tion rather than gloom. Still there is no doubt that many of the greatest 
tragedies have this unhappy ending, and the Oresteia has plenty of murder 
and gloom during the course of itself. I should say that the main point of 
this is to give the play something which may best be described as 'signifi- 
cance'. 2 In a comedy we know that everything is going to turn out right m 
the long run, at any rate for those characters for whom we have sympathy; 
consequently we feel that 'it does not much matter* what happens in the 
meantime; we can sit back and relax. Now this is the one thing tragedy 
cannot let us do; it is above all concerned with intensity and tenseness of 
emotion, and whatever enjoyment we get from it must surely be connected 
with this fact. Hence we must not be allowed to feel that everything is secure. 
Something must happen which raises in us a high degree of emotion, and it 
seems also to be necessary that there should be more than one emotion 
aroused, and that some conflict must take place between them, so that an 
emotion of intense pleasure, such as may be aroused by a good farce, will be 
inadequate. It may well be that the unhappy ending may depend on the 
fact that drama is a tradition; we have seen other dramas before the one we 
are considering at any given moment, and have learnt something of what to 
expect. If dramas tended to end happily after a tempestuous course, we should 
begin to behave towards them as we do towards comedies. If all literature 
contained only one tragedy, of which each person saw only one performance, 

1 Cf. Aristotle's 'For we arc not to expect any and every kind of pleasure from Tragedy, 
but only that which is proper to it.' 
1 One aspect of 'high seriousness*. 


I sec no reason why the tragedy should not have a happy ending, provided 
that for much of its course the audience had good reason to suspect that this 
might not be so. 1 

... I think tragedy should make use of all the responses available, including 
spectacle, diction, music, atmosphere, 2 according as they may be suitable . . . 
There seems to be some opposition to this view in many quarters; it is 
suggested that the modern spectacular productions of Shakespeare take away 
our appreciation of the 'play itself, whatever that is. 

This seems to me rather an actor's complaint, and it was put forward 
vividly by Godfrey Tearle speaking on television recently, who compared 
the sunrise in Romeo and Juliet to a modern play where a sunrise took place 
with resplendent scenic effects to the sole accompaniment of: 'Gee, ain't that 
pretty,' said by a cowboy. Perhaps the diction of modern drama has suffered 
in that way, 3 but I see no intrinsic reason why this should matter if the effect 
is made up jin spectacle or in some other dramatic category ... It need hardly 
be added that those who arc responsible for the scenic effects must be com- 
petent at their jobs . . . The chief danger is perhaps that the scenic manager 
will turn the play into a melodrama, a situation which may perhaps be defined as 
one in which emotions are depicted on the stage, or suggested through de*cor and 
scenery, that are disproportionately greater than those likely to be more than moment- 
arily aroused in the audience, even when the play is given an otherwise good perform- 
ance* Melodrama may thus be cither the fault of the author (in which case 
the play 'is* a melodrama) or of the performers, 5 (in which case is 'becomes* 

A tragedy should undoubtedly avoid being a melodrama in this sense, but 
there is no logical reason why it should limit the sources from which it draws 
its effects. 6 

D. jpis the youngest contributor. Most of his views are traditional but 
are sufficiently clear to be worth re-stating in his own words: 

The philosopher's theories have ever been unsatisfactory. They chose their 
favourite play or playwright and deduced their theories backwards: no 
wonder that they disagreed. Thus from Aristotle to Bradley, each spoke only 
the partial truth, for the philosopher is concerned with the intellect, and a 
tragedian with the emotions. 7 He also has an ulterior motive, the develop- 
ment of his particular theory of the universe and the disparagement of the 

1 If this proposition is accepted, we should perceive Philoctetes, Troilus and Cressida, 
Measure for Measure, and perhips The Winter's Tale, as tragedies. 

2 Cf. Coleridge's insistence on the unity of 'atmosphere' m Romeo and Juliet. 

3 We may profitably consider the 'poetic' passages of Mr Fry's plays in this context. 

4 I should define melodrama as that type of play which attempts to produce the emotions 
appropriate to tragedy on insufficient emotional pretexts: through inorganic conceptions 
of character or plot. 

5 We should probably lay the blame on the producer. 
A naive decision, but a not uncommon one. 

7 Not wholly true, though it is often propounded as a view. 


theories of others; he is obliged, to keep up his reputation, always to be 
saying something new. 

It would have been more practical to have decided first what is tragic in 
human existence; but philosophers were always the most impractical of men. 
It is quickly proved that every tragedy depends for a great measure of its 
power on the aptness of its reference to archetypal human situations. 

(Now he gives a series of definitions, axioms and propositions.) 

i. Real Life, Reality 

something that is seen to the full only on the deathbed. 1 
2 The Material of Tragedy 

(a) The 'eternal commonplaces' of Birth, Life and Death, part of the most 

primitive fertility rites and religious rituals. 

(/)) The theme of sin, suffering and punishment, often in a religious sense 
as the problem of evil Suffering is the keynote of tragedy, as of life. 

(c) The age-old theme of man, the divine being, contrasted with man, the 
animal This sublime paradox is the essence of King Lear and lurks 
behind all Shakespearian tragedy. 

(d) Human blindness to events to come, and the unintended results of 
actions well-meant. Tragic Error and Accident are permissible in a 
reasonable degree. 2 

(e) The sudden realization of truth after blindness. 3 
(J) One catastrophe causes others in a chain. 4 

(g) Man is not master of his fate, or captain of his soul. Christian dogma 
agrees that man is m control of his own will, but his destiny is decided 
by external accident Any violent attempt to defy the Oracle of 
Apollo, or the forecasts in the weekly papers, is sure to fail and bring 

(/i) It is folly to trust to appearances, or to boast. Hubris is not merely a 

(i) Words and events prove ironic in the light of subsequent events. 

(k) Sin is equally potent whether conscious or unconscious. It is the 
impulse behind nearly all pleasure, its power is cumulative, and it is 
like damp-rot, or oak-worm. 8 Man's sm arises from the inability of 
his weak will to overcome the more potent animal instincts within 
him. It is more than pervcrseness, it is an inherent rift in human 
nature. Every tragedian must face, bi4t must not solve, this problem. 

(/) Man's greatness is only apparent at rare moments of victory over 
bodily limitations; only then is he a little lower than the angels. 

(m) Others suffer from the sin of one. 6 

1 Cf. Chapter 21, 'Death in Tragedy'. Sec Chapter 2. 

8 This is merely the anagnorisis. 4 See Chapter 6. 

6 Perhaps dry-rot and death-watch beetle would be more appropriate symbols. 
6 Sec Chapter 7, The Ethical Problem'. 


3. Pleasure in Tragedy 

(a) The audience's passions are excited and stimulated, not purged. When 
witnessing evil, the audience's subconscious evil finds expression; an 
instinctive pleasure is derived from brutality, sadism and lust. Yet 
audiences prefer suggestion rather than realism, which is too sordid; 1 
then they suddenly want the play censored. Sometimes there is a 
temporary feeling of purification at such an outlet: temporary 

(b) There is pleasure to be derived from a luxury of sorrow, of language, 
and of spectacle. 

(c) The noblest pleasure of all is exultation at the greatness of the human 

4. The Necessity for some form of Compensation 

Christian ethics demand the reconciliation of man with God, but such 
sudden optimism is likely to be unconvincing. The pagan conception of atonement 
for evil by self-destruction is more satisfactory to demonstrate moral order in the 
process of re-asserting itself. The hero must ultimately perceive the truth, 
or pessimism will be inevitable: Oedipus blinds himself in repentance, 
and lives. But all such compensations are poor atonements for the des- 
truction already caused. Why produce a spirit-level when the house has 
fallen? Yet it is the emotional effect of the act of compensation that seems 
to matter. 2 

5. What is inadvisable in Tragedy 

(a) Realism. In opera, which is furthest removed from realism, Brunn- 
hilda at the end of Die Gotterddmmerung is another Cleopatra. 

(b) A religious or political axe to grind. 

(c) Angels or deep-dyed villains. 

(d) Elaborate language for its own sake. (But the heightened language of 
poetry has many advantages.) 

6. What is unnecessary in Tragedy 

(a) Love as the theme, though it would be inevitable in this secure age to-day: 
secure compared to Euripides' 'Love does not vex the man that begs 
his bread/ 8 

(b) Death of the hero, provided that there is some 'compensation*. The 
death of some of the principal characters is necessary to heighten the 

(c) Suspense of wondering what will happen next. Anticipation, the sense 
of knowing that it will, is far more powerful. 5 

1 See Chapter 5, 'The Shadow of the Pleasure*. 

1 There is confusion here between the ideas of atonement and compensation. 

1 Johnson made much the same point in the Preface to Shakespeare. ('But love is only 
one of many passions/ etc.) 

4 But how? As innocent victims, or oblique objects of accumulated sin, or merely as 
components of a holocaust? 

* Coleridge made this point of Shakespeare. 


7. Possible in Tragedy 

(a) Reconciliation with the world which is always inadequate, moving 
in its inadequacy. 'What's done cannot be undone.' 

(b) Comedy, provided it is subordinate and organic. 

(c) The Chorus . . . Yet the Chorus is certainly not a necessity; he (or 
they) often come(s) between the audience and the actors, and tends to 
over-emphasize the element of Fate. And it is never quite clear 
whether the chorus himself is one of Fate's minions or not. 

8. Conclusion 

Tragedy is not a code of literary law. It is a response to the eternal 
problem of evil in life, in a dramatic representation condensed, arranged 
and intensified. Man is led to commit evil, and evil can never be made 
good, though good can easily be made evil. In many things man is 
physically inferior to the animals, and mentally he frequently sinks to 
their state; only his momentary greatness of soul makes him superior, and 
it is this which prevents great tragedy from depressing the audience. In 
one way tragedy demonstrates the futility of evil, implying that continual 
virtue is necessary for a good life: but at the same time it points out the 
condemnatory flaw, that man cannot be free from sin for even the shortest 


The Harvest of Tragedy 

The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed them- 
selves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. In reality, 
however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that 
comes within his reach 5 A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to 
him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellowmcn, and when he 
devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help Only the uni- 
versal ethic of the feeling of responsibility in an ever-widening sphere for all 
that lives only that ethic can be founded in thought. The ethic of the 
relation of man to man is not something apart by itself it is only a par- 
ticular relation which results from the universal one. 


These tragic visions and perspectives contain a hidden philosophy, for 
they lend meaning to an otherwise meaningless doom. 


WHITE HE AT}' S quotation, from which the title of this book and of 
this chapter is taken, suggests that tragedy communicates, through 
suffering, a supreme sense of harmony with the universe. I have been 
concerned to suggest a view of tragedy which is not, I believe, out of 
harmony with Christianity, and which has some bearing on the inter- 
pretation of political and social problems. Before I attempt to carry the 
argument a stage further it may be well to summarize the points which 
I have tried to make. 

There neither is nor can be any definition of tragedy 3 that is suffi- 
ciently wide to cover its variant forms in the history of world literature. 
The following propositions regarding its nature may, however, com- 
mand some measure of assent: 

i. It is an organization of one or more limited but organically 

1 My Life and Thought, pp. 158-9. * Tragedy is Not Enough, p. 27. 

3 Apart from A. C. Bradley's dicta, I have only read a single recent attempt at formula- 

'Tragedy is the projection of personal and collective values which arc potentially or 
actually put in jeopardy by the course of the dramatic action; while, at the same time, the 
jeopardy of these values evokes from the spectator a response through his loyalty to the 
values involved, a response positive in character, yet differing widely in content from 
age to age and from individual to individual.' Harris, The Case for Tragedy , p. 182. 



complete sequences of events in time, refracted for the purpose 
of stage presentation into an aesthetic unity. 

2. It is concerned primarily to depict human conflict, suffering, and 
apparent defeat. 

3. Its basic material is three-fold: 

(a) the nature and properties of the law or laws, whether 
'divine', 'natural* or 'human', under which we live. 

(b) the possible or perceived division, contradiction or conflict 
within such laws; either as between the three groups 
themselves; or internally, within any one of them. 

(c) the responsibility of individual or collective man when 
confronted with such a division, contradiction or con- 
flict: whether it be perceived (by the protagonists or 

(i) wholly as a logical consequence of action, 
(ii) partly as a logical consequence of action, 
(iii) as an aspect of the Irrational; including the supra- 

or in any combination of these. 

4. It is concerned with the consequences of thought and action 
arising out of such conflict. 

5. In doing so it shows Past and Present in specific relationships of 
causation expounded through character in action. 

6. Because of the characteristics of the dramatic form, the nature 
of the laws and their consequences will appear in different 
aspects to 

(a) the protagonists, at their different levels of responsibility 

and knowledge, 
(fc) the spectators. 

7. The spectator or reader will therefore oscillate between evalua- 
tion of the tragedy qua spectator and qua protagonist; 1 in accord- 
ance both with the response of the individual to specific psycho- 
logical aspects of characterization, and with the latent 'potential' 
of each work. 

(These considerations explain, and justify, the wide deviations 

1 We have therefore the phenomena of the dispassionate ('The spectators are always 
in their senses . . .'), and various degrees of identification or projection. It seems probable 
that these attitudes occur alternately, and simultaneously. 


in the criticism of tragedy as a generic form, and of its individual 

8. The tragic statement must employ some or all of the methods of 
poetry, since 

(a) its resources for communication are severely limited in 
time; therefore it must be economical. 

(b) its statement regarding the nature of the Laws is penumbral 
as concerned with propositions which, both because of 
their complexity and their emotional roots in times past 
and present, are not susceptible of full and continuous 
intellectual communication. 

(c) a symbolic communication 1 seems best fitted to convey 
specific kinds of Past-Present relationship, and is the most 
effective method of imposing the appearance, whether 
temporary or permanent, of unity. 

(d) The themes of suffering and apparent defeat involve, at 
one stage or another, an emotional response which can be 
communicated only through poetry. 

9. Under 'methods of poetry' we shall include all artistic devices 
which contribute to the unity of the aesthetic statement. These 
include: music, lighting, scenic effects, the costumes, gestures, 
positioning of actors. 2 

10. Since the tragic statement may be penumbral in character, it 
will often be concerned to work through ambivalences in which 
opposites may be perceived as existing simultaneously and in 
apparent contradiction. 3 

11. For the same reason it may make use of paradox, to produce a 
total response which is intuitional rather than logical in character. 

12. This total response is of three kinds: 

(a) That which is apparently reconciled or completed within 
the organic structure of the play. 4 

(b) That which is apparently projected outside and beyond 
the play as a continuing and revitalized problem. 6 

(c) That which is a compound of these two conditions. 

1 1 include in this all kinds of imagery. 

1 A recent critic of Ibsen, J. R. Northam, has made clear the cumulative poetic signifi- 
cance of the playwright's directions in such matters. 

* As, for example, the answers to the question 'What rules the world?' in King Lear. 
4 As in most Elizabethan /Jacobean tragedy. 
B As in Euripides, Ibsen, T. S. Eliot. 


13. The 'pleasure proper to tragedy' arises from one or more of the 
following elements: which vary in composition, proportion and 
intensity with different tragic forms and with different civiliza- 

(a) That pleasure which arises from the imposition of aesthetic 
form upon an Image 1 which would otherwise be inchoate 
and indeterminate in time and space. 2 

(fc) That pleasure which arises from the recognition, or in- 
ference, of certain specific aspects of human or supra- 
human character, and hence of their appropriate values: 
perceived as working in accordance with, or contrary to, 
'divine', 'natural' or 'human' laws, or some combination 
of them. 

(c) That pleasure which arises from the imagined or sym- 
pathetic relation of such values to the spectator or to his 
friends or enemies. 

(d) That pleasure which arises from the release of certain 
psychological tensions, conscious or unconscious, in the 

(e) That exaltation or ecstasy 3 which arises from a conjunc- 
tion of these experiences, which are synthesized in a 
manner appropriate to the poetic statement. 

14. Tragedy can and does concern itself with all questions of moral 
values, both immediate and ultimate. It is 'philosophical', but it 
does not, and cannot, propose a systematic philosophy. It raises 
metaphysical issues, but it has no metaphysic of its own. Yet 
Jaspers is right in calling it a metaphysical art, 'that is to say, an 
art whose visible creations reveal the underlying reality'. 4 

If we are to respond to the tragic experience we need only possess, 
at the outset, the imaginative capacity to perceive, and to be moved 
by, the sufferings of others. When this sympathy is aroused we are 
confronted with the problems of causation of that suffering, and by 
a greater or lesser measure of projection and identification, we perceive 

1 I use the word as on p. 196. 

* This includes, of course, the pleasure experienced in perceiving any past-present 
relationship as two out of the three terms involved. 

* I use the word in 'LonginusY sense; without any suggestion of hysteria. There is, 
perhaps, no exact equivalent for the German Erhebung. 

4 Op. cit. 9 p. 26. 


such problems in alignment with our own. In assessing them we are 
compelled to consider them from a series of viewpoints which may 
alternate, or come into operation simultaneously from complementary 
or opposing angles, in so far as we oscillate between the poles of partial 
identification and the objective dispassionateness of the spectator. Our 
attitudes are further complicated by considerations such as these : whether 
the aspects of tragic experience are to be wholly imagined, whether they 
involve a partial or complete recognition of our own conscious experi- 
ences; whether or not certain subliminal aspects of the psyche are 
activated or released; and whether the problems themselves are capable 
of extension to a world or cosmic significance. We are made aware of 
enlargements both of sensibility and responsibility, a responsibility that 
is paradoxically set free by the fact of the dramatic pattern from the 
limiting processes of stimulus to immediate physical action. 

It is beyond all question that the values stated or questioned in the 
tragic experience are of the utmost moral importance, both individu- 
ally and collectively. Its moral structure is firmly based on a general 
ethic, which is perceived as stable in its principles, evolutionary in its 
application to an evolving world. Alone of all artistic forms tragedy 
offers no apologies for its incidental didacticism; its source-material in 
ritual, religion, myth, history, cannot determine otherwise. Its didacti- 
cism may be, and often is, multiform, disguised, working by paradox 
or antithesis, implicit in its images. In the revelation and interaction 
of character we are confronted continuously with values, whether 
implicit or explicit, stated or inferred, that are steadily related to a 
traditional or evolving ethic. And since the Aristotelian analysis is a 
convenient method of considering the basic values (and their implied 
opposites) as they appear in tragedy, it is convenient to set them out 

Courage which controls rashness and timidity. 

Temperance which controls indulgence and abstinence. 

Liberality which controls giving and receiving. , 

Magnificence which incurs and limits great expense. 

Magnanimity which moderates and acquires honour and reputa- 

Love of honour which moderates and orders us as regards the 
world's honours. 

Mansuetude which moderates our anger and our overmuch im- 
patience with external evils. 


Affability which makes us 'convivial' or companionable with 

Truthfulness which prevents us in our talk from pretending to be 

more or less than we are. 
Pleasantness (eutrapeha) which sets us free to make a proper and 

easy use of amusement ('sollazia' solace). 
Justice which constrains us to love and practise directness in all 

things. 1 

I do not know of any tragedies which do not suggest and develop one 
or more of the values comprehended here. 


The Harvest of Tragedy is the freedom and enrichment of the human 

The phrase sounds trite, but it is difficult to put it otherwise. For 
tragedy, more than any other art form except the epic, must deal with 
ultimatcs. It surfers no specific limitations as to whether its exposition 
shall be direct or oblique, implicit or explicit. It cannot handle the 
conflicts of the Laws without raising moral issues, from whatever 
standpoint they are perceived; it fails as a formal work of art if, in its 
handling of such problems, it evades them or seeks to translate them 
into other terms. It may not give definitive answers; both final pessi- 
mism, and final optimism, contradict the nature of tragedy as an 
imitation of life. Its peculiar quality is to present the mingled yarn in 
such a manner that a pattern is perceptible. If that perception is accom- 
panied by exaltation or ecstasy, by a heightening of the senses, by a 
transcending of the physical impact of suffering, grief, destruction, we 
are enabled to recognize and to possess, at least momentarily, values 
that we have grounds for believing to be permanent in their own right. 

All writers of, or on, tragedy have recognized its mystery, or quality 
of infinitude. The quotation from Wordsworth's Borderers is hack- 
neyed, perhaps; but no passage sums up this sense so well: 

Action is transitory; a step, a blow, 

The motion of a muscle this way or that 

'Tis done and in the after-vacancy 

We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed: 

Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark, 

And shares the nature of infinity. 2 

1 1 am indebted here to Charles Williams' s recapitulation and explanation in The Figure 
of Beatrice. 8 Act HI. 


Comedy, whether 'critical* or Tree', 1 lives in virtue of acceptance of 
human limitations as a norm of human conduct; it approves and 
certifies, in its conclusion, the ultimate rationality of man. Tragedy, 
even when its conclusions appear to be pessimistic, does not accept this 
limitation. In this apparent wreckage of human aspirations which it 
perceives there is implicit, not only the possibility of redemption, but 
the spiritual assertion that man is splendid in his ashes, and can transcend 
his nature; the nature that Rousseau thought perfectible, 2 and that 
Freud once thought evil. 3 

The possibility of redemption may be perceived in many forms. If 
we are to use non-Christian terminology, we are confronted with the 
essential fact that man's desires exceed his limitations in the universe in 
which he is set; and that from this evil must spring: 

Ideally men seek to subject their arbitrary and contingent existence under 
the dominion of absolute reality. But practically they always mix the finite 
with the eternal and claim for themselves, their nation, their culture, or their 
class, the centre of existence. This is the root of all imperialism in man and 
explains why the restricted predatory impulses of the animal world are 
transmuted into the boundless imperial ambitions of human life. 4 

In tragedy we are presented with the &vayvoQiaig,t\\c recognition of 
this: and through its symbol and ritual with the possibility of psycho- 
logical liberation, consciously or unconsciously, through participation 
in its emotions. The result is basically a perception of scale or propor- 
tion, a rejection of that pride or civic insolence which is so often the 
preliminary spiritual state preceding evil. Fear, of whatever kind, may 
be aroused under one of two headings; the neurotic anxiety of the 
ego-centric, and the wholesome humility of fear before the unknown. 

But if the Christian point of view is accepted (and I have 
endeavoured to keep in sight what seems to me a steady convergence 
of the moral and anthropological sciences upon it) I am clear that the 
history and theory of tragedy is capable of re-interpretation in those 

1 Cf. p. 222, note. 

1 There is no such thing as pure 'nature* in man. It is changed by his participation in 
the activities of spirit. 

1 1 refer to the apparent hope in Civilization and its Discontents that there is a solution, 
in the future, of the neurotic conflict from which it seemed that man could not escape. 

4 Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, pp. 84-5. Quoted by Thelen, 
p. 80. 


terms; and that it affords a more adequate solution of the tragic prob- 
lems than can be found elsewhere. A return to the doctrine of Original 
Sin itself postulated, though in non-Christian terms, by Marx and 
Freud affords both an explanation of the tragic flaw, and, in con- 
junction with the sin of pride, the emergence of evil upon the tragic 

Original sin is then postulated as a defect of the will, or 'bias* in the will, 
which characterizes the will before any act ... Original sin is to be dis- 
tinguished from actual sin in that it is not an act at all but the presupposition 
of every act. 1 

In the same way the characteristics of sin are to be perceived in 
alignment with the 'delusion* of classical philosophy: 

It is this very blindness and self-deception which constitutes the mystery 
of sin. For it is really a mystery. No one, not even the most astute psycho- 
logist, has ever made a perfectly convincing analysis of the comparative 
degrees of ignorance and dishonesty which enter into it. 2 

I am aware that this view of evil is in direct opposition to a number 
of liberal philosophies to-day; which would make the sense of guilt 
no more than the product of wrongdoing and punishment in child- 
hood: a product that is, of immediate upbringing and environment, 
without reference even to the collective unconscious. The evidence of 
history and literature appears to contradict it flatly. It seems to me 
that the demonstration offered by the more intimate and usually un- 
chronicled heroes of war have reinforced abundantly the metaphysical 
concept of implicit evil. Tragedy is perhaps the only art form which, 
by its handling of myth, myth-in-history, and history perceived (by 
poetic extension) as a cosmic process, can bring home to us the judge- 
ments of history in their attempt to establish human justice and in their 
violation of divine law. 

I do not suggest that the recognition of human evil as the 'defeat of 
the will* leads to a negative or pessimistic view. Taken in isolation, it 
may well be sterile. But just as the Christian cycle of sin, repentance, 
atonement, redemption is completed in its operation by the awakening 
of pity and the merging of the self-hood of man in love, so the tragic 
cycle may be thought of as operating on the human consciousness in 
an analogous manner, though at a lower level. Tragic evil becomes 
recognizable as the assertion of the will beyond the limits proper to 

1 Thelen, op. c\t. t p. 95. 

2 The Nature and Destiny of Man, p. 105. Or. Thelen, p. 85. 


the individual's relationship to his fellows and to his God. Both trans- 
gressions are manifestations of hubris, the failure to recognize the 
creature in relation to the creator; and its common form is the concept 
of God as a projection of the Super-Ego, or as identified with that 
component of personality: from which spring, whether explicitly or 
otherwise, all theories of the Super-Man. When once such theories are 
accepted, pity is killed; all other individuals shrivel before the lust of 
power, which begets hatred. 

It is the recognition of this sin, and of its illimitable consequences, 
which I see as the root of the tree of tragedy, which is in turn one 
manifestation of the tree of life. For the tragic statement is, in essence, 
a patterned showing-forth, in a perspicuous form, of an 'action' of 
this kind. By its rhythmic patterns, in form, incident, music and 
language, it produces the heightened attffeon which is the prior con-j 
dition of response to all statements proper to that species of morality] 
that are not susceptible of intellectual analysis. By its ritual character 
it can both satisfy our human demands for that aspect of living, ana 
heighten still further the attention which is necessary. By image and 
symbol, whether archetypal or otherwise, it can bring into play, fulfil, 
release, important elements of the subliminal consciousness which 
hinder, (and which, when released, can help most powerfully) the 
human understanding. By its cyclic ending in death it seals, and pre- 
pares for continuing life, the chain of being whose pattern it mirrors; 
sin, punishment, atonement, the grace of death. Its greatness is to 
perceive intuitively and to communicate, the making of the individual 
soul in relation to his environment. 

I do not suggest for a moment that tragedy can in any possible 
manner become a substitute for religion. It is clear that there are 
worlds beyond tragedy, and that Karl Jaspers' l main thesis is irrefut- 
able. I do suggest that it moves on a lower plane but parallel to, the 
religious experience which selects, as the material for suffering, the 
examination of the crooked questions, and the origin of the divine 
spark in man. The awakening of pity seems the first step (because of 
this induration through successive wars of which I have spoken) to a 
sense of Christian charity: that of fear, 2 a necessary state of mind to 
our readiness to consider the idea of the numinous; both together 
forcing us to confront a series of ethical problems which have their 

1 In Tragedy is Not Enough. 

1 * Always it comes about that the beginning of wisdom is a fear/ Miguel da Unamuno, 
op. cit. t p. 107. 


solution only in faith. The groundwork of that faith is to be found in 
the moments of awareness of a unity (itself of widely differing forms 
but of a single generic significance) which is derived from all great art. 
That such moments are made possible only by a preparation through 
ritual, individual self-discipline, and the exaltation of the soul through 
a combination of certain artistic communications, is a commonplace 
of religious history. 

Those writers, including Ellis-Fermor and Jaspers, who have assumed 
that Christianity and the tragic sense are incompatible, do so, I think, 
on the basis that the latter ceases to have any meaning when appre- 
hended against a background of faith, redemption and salvation 
through grace. Sin and suffering cease to have any significance sub 
specie aeternitatis: they are transcended in man's approach to God, in 
Whose hands is rcdcmptiq^Birough perfect love. In Jaspers' words: 

Every one of man's basic experiences ceases ro be tragic in a Christian con- 
text. Guilt becomes felix culpa, the 'happy fault* the guilt without which 
no salvation is possible. Judas' betrayal was necessary for Christ's sacrifice 
and death, the source of salvation for all believers Christ is the deepest 
symbol of failure in the world, yet he is in no sense tragic In his very failure 
he knows, fulfils, and consummates. 1 

I cannot agree wholly with this view. That guilt should be felix 
culpa is true only in so far as the individual punishment, on earth or 
(less probably) in Purgatory, is merged in a specific kind of aesthetico- 
religious distance; and it is of the essence of tragedy that the experience 
which it communicates should work upwards from the individual to 
the universe, and not downwards. We can only subscribe to the 
doctrine of the Fortunate Fall if we arc prepared to allow less am- 
bivalence in our own response to tragedy than seems, on the evidence, 
to be proper. For while the Fortunate Fall may be, in one sense, the 
symbol of our psychic redemption, its power to move us is developed 
concurrently with our sympathetic response to suffering, and a divided 
response at the conclusion of the play. We cannot know how the 
balances of judgement will be loaded. We are aware of something 
akin to grace when suffering is merged in exalted death; not grace, but 
a state that is a preparation for its reception, if faith extends so far. 

It would be vanity of the most intolerable kind to suggest that the 
views which I have put forward in this essay can influence us in our 
interpretation of the human situation. Literary criticism since Arnold 

1 Jaspers, op. cit. t p. 40. 


may well be thought to have taken too much upon itself, whether in 
proposing that poetry should be a substitute for religion, or that 
civilization may be saved by the values proposed by an eclectic critical 
taste. All that I have been concerned with is to suggest that tragedy, 
which is still the most important, and probably the most pervasive, 
of the great literary forms, can be interpreted, increasingly, as of the 
highest ethical importance; that the hardening of mind and spirit 
which I have suggested as a consequence of war, demand that we 
should return to it with a new interest; that anthropology, psychology, 
and recent religious developments suggest a convergence, though not 
an identity, of the values implicit in tragedy; that Release', 'recogni- 
tion', expiation and grace have ground in common; that of its fruits 
the greatest is self-knowledge through suffering. Behind it and beyond 
there lies always that mysterious activity of all literary creation: Poetry 
administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. 

Tragedy can question that cause with the full resources of the con- 
scious and unconscious, of the immediate and the traditional, in a 
medium of the utmost complexity; yet which continues at a number 
of levels because it, and it alone, can use the traditional resources of 
dramatic art with a consciousness, however remote, of its ritual begin- 
nings. What has been called 'ecstasy', joy', 'exaltation' by writers on 
tragedy is perhaps (quite simply) that sense of extended and extending 
wisdom that is in its essence a prelude to a new sense of unity; from 
which we can get, with Wordsworth 

Authentic tidings of invisible things, 
Of ebb and flow and ever-during power, 
And central peace subsisting at the heart 
Of endless agitation. 

It is then that 'the stupid arrogance of thinking ourselves civilized 
loses its power over us'. 1 This broadening of sensibility is described, 
in that language of poetry which is, perhaps, best fitted to explain 
tragedy, in this extract: 

Certainly we have here the Tree of Life and that of The Knowledge of 
Good and Evil which is rooted in our interests, and if we have forgotten their 
differing virtues it is surely because we have taken delight in a confusion of 
crossing branches. Tragic art, passionate art, the drowner of dykes, 2 the 

1 Schweitzer, My Life and Thought. 

2 This is an allusion to an earlier sentence in the same essay: '. . . tragedy must always 
be a drowning of the dykes that separate man from man, and it is upon these dykes 
comedy keeps house'. 


confounder of understanding, moves us by setting us to reverie, by alluring 
us almost to the intensity of trance. The persons upon the stage, let us say, 
greaten till they are humanity itself. We feel our minds expand convulsively 
or spread out slowly like some moon-brightened image-crowded sea. That 
which is before our eyes perpetually vanishes and returns again m the midst 
of the excitement it creates, and the more enthralling it is, the more do we 
forget it. 1 

1 Yeats, Essays, pp. 302-3 : The Tragic Theatre. 


Abercrombic, L. Principles of English Prosody. London, 1923. 

Anderson, R. L. Elizabethan Psychology and Shakespeare's Plays. Univ. of Iowa 

Studies, III, 4. 1927. 
Anouilh, Jean. Antigone and Eurydice, transl. Lewis Galantiere and Lothian Small. 

London, 1951. 

Armstong, E. A. Shakespeare's Imagination. London, 1946. 
Auden, W. H. The Enchafed Flood. London, 1951. 
Auerbach, Eric. Mimesis; dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendlandischen Literatur. 

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Baker, Howard. Induction to Tragedy. Univ. of Louisiana, 1939. 
Bcntley, Eric R. The Playwright as Thinker. New York, 1946. 
Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will, transl. F. L. Pogson. London, 1950 
Bevan, Edwyn R. Symbolism and Belief (Gifford Lectures, 1933-4). London, 1938. 
Bodkin, Maud. Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. Oxford, 1934. 

Studies of Type-Images in Poetry y Religion and Philosophy. Oxford, 1951. 

The Quest for Salvation in an Ancient and a Modern Play. Oxford, 1941. 

Bowra, C. M. The Heritage of Symbolism. London, 1943. 

Bradbrook, M. C. Ibsen the Norwegian. London, 1946. 

Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy (2nd Edn ). London, 1905. 

Oxford Lectures on Poetry (2nd Edn.). London, 1909. 

Bridgeman, P. W. The Logic of Modern Physics. New York, 1946 

Bronowski,J. The Poet's Defence Cambridge, 1939. 

Butcher, S. H. Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art (4th Edn ) London, 1927. 

Butterfield, H. Christianity and History London, 1949. 

Campbell, J. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York, 1949. 

Campbell, Lewis. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Shakespeare. London, 1904. 

Campbell, L. B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes. Cambridge, 1930 

Caudwell, C. Illusion and Reality. London, 1937. 

Clark, B H. European Theories of the Drama. New York, 1929. 

A Study of the Modern Drama (Revised Edn.). New York, 1938. 

Clemen, W. H. The Development of Shakespeare' s Imagery London, 1951. 
Coleridge, S. T. Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare (New Universal Library Edn ). 

London, 1908. 

Cornford, F. M. From Religion to Philosophy. London, 1912. 
Cousteau, J. Y. The Silent World. London, 1953. 

Croce, B. Ariosto, Shakespeare and Corneille, transl. Ainslie. London, 1920. 
Danby, J. F. Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature. London, 1949. 
Dempscy, P. J. R. The Psychology of Sartre Cork Umv Press, 1950. 
Dixon, W. Macneilc Tragedy (3rd Edn ). 1929. 

The Human Situation (Girford Lectures, 1935-7). Arnold, 1937. 

Dobr6e, B. Restoration Comedy. Oxford, 1927. 
Downs, B. W. Ibsen: the Intellectual Background. Cambridge, 1946. 



Eliot, T. S. Selected Essays (jrd Enlarged Edn.). London, 1951. 

Poetry and Drama. London, 1951. 

Elhs-Fermor, U. M. The Frontiers of Drama. London, 1945. 

The Irish Dramatic Movement. London, 1939. 

Empson, W. Seven Types of Ambiguity. London, 1930. 

The Structure of Complex Words London, 1951. 

Fergusson, Francis. The Idea of a Theatre. Princeton, 1949. 

Figgis,}. N The Will to Freedom. London, 1917. 

Fluchere, H. William Shakespeare, transl. Hamilton. London, 1953. 

Foerster, Norman. The Intent of the Critic, ed. D. A. StaufFcr. Princeton, 1941. 

Fortescue, Sir John. A History of the British Army. London, 1933. 

Frazer, J. The Golden Bough (3rd Edn.). London, 1911-13. 

Frcytag, G. Die Technik des Dramas Leipzig, 1890. 

Frohock, W. M. Andre* Malraux and the Tragic Imagination. Stamford, 1952. 

Garaudy, R. Literature of the Graveyard. New York, 1948. 

Garcia Lorca, F. Three Tragedies, transl. Graharn-Luja'n and O'Connell. New 

York, 1947. 
Gorcr, G. The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis de Sade. (Foreword by J. B. S. 

Haldane ) London, 1954. 

Haigh, A. E. The Tragic Drama of the Greeks. Oxford, 1896. 
Hardman, D. (Ed ) Reflections on Our Age London, 1948. 
Harris, Mark. The Case for Tragedy. New York, 1932. 
Harrison, Jane Themis (2nd Edn , Revised) Cambridge, 1927 
Hebbel, F. Samtntliche Werke Vienna, 1851-3. 
Heller, E. The Disinherited Mind Cambridge, 1952 
Herbert, S. The Unconscious Mind London, 1923. 
Hinks, R Myth and Allegory in Ancient Art. Warburg Inst. Studies, 6. London, 


Hoffmann, F. J. Freudianism and the Literary Mind Univ. of Louisiana, 1945. 
James, D. G. The Dream of Learning Oxford, 1951. 
Jaspers, Karl. Tragedy is Not Enough. London, 1953. 
Joyce, J. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1952 Edn.). London. 
Jung, C. G. Psychology of the Unconscious, transl. B M. Hinkle London, 1915. 

Collected Papers (2nd Edn ) London, 1917. 

Modern Man in Search of a Soul, transl. Dell and Baynes. London, 1933. 

Jung, C. G. and Kerenyi, C Introduction to a Science of Mythology, transl. R. F. C. 

Hull. London, 1951. 
Kierkegaard, S. A. Either/Or, transl. D. F. and L. M. Swenson and Lowrie. 

London, 1944. 

Stages, on Life's Way, transl. Lowrie. London, 1940. 

The Concept of Dread, transl. Lowrie. London, 1944. 

Kitto, H. D. F. Greek Tragedy. London, 1950. 

The Greeks. (Pelican) 1951. 

Knight, G. Wilson. The Imperial Theme. Oxford, 1931. 

Koht, H. Life of Ibsen, transl. McMahon and Larson. London, 1931. 

Krutch, J. W. The Modern Temper. London, 1930. 

Leech, Clifford. Shakespeare's Tragedies (and other studies in seventeenth-century 

drama). London, 1950. 


Lorca, F. Garcfa. Three Tragedies. New York, 1947. 
Lucas, D. W. The Greek Tragic Poets. London, 1950. 
Lucas, F. L. Authors Dead and Living. London, 1926. 

Tragedy. Hogarth Press, 1927. 

Literature and Psychology. London, 1951. 

Greek Drama for Everyman. London, 1954. 

Margoliouth, D. S. The Poetics of Aristotle. London, 1911. 
Matthaei, B. M. Studies in Greek Tragedy. Cambridge, 1918. 
Mortensen, B. M. E. and Downs, B. W. Strindberg. Cambridge, 1949. 
Moulton, R. G. Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist. Oxford, 1893. 
Murray, Gilbert. Aeschylus, the Creator of Tragedy. Oxford, 1940. 

The Classical Tradition in Poetry. Oxford, 1927. 

Myths and Ethics. London, 1944. 

Nicoll, Allardyce. The Theory of Drama. London, 1931. 

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Beyond Tragedy. London, 1938. 

The Nature and Destiny of Man (Gifford Lectures, 1939). London, 1941. 

The Irony of American History. London, 1952. 

Nietzsche. Collected Works, ed. Levy. Edinburgh, 1909-13. 

Northam, J. R. Ibsen's Dramatic Method; a Study of the Prose Dramas. London, 1953. 

Norwood, Gilbert. Euripides and Shaw. London, 1921. 

O'Neill, Eugene. Collected Plays. New York, 1924. 

Raglan, Lord. The Hero. London, 1936. 

Rank, Otto. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: a Psychological Interpretation of 

Mythology. New York, 1914. 

Richards, I. A. Principles of Literary Criticism. London, 1925. 
Russell, Bertrand Human Society in Ethics and Politics. London, 1954. 
Schweitzer, A. My Life and Thought, transl. C. T. Campion. London, 1954. 
Sedgwick, W. E. Herman Melville. Harvard, 1944. 
Sewell, W. A. Character and Society in Shakespeare. Oxford, 1951. 
Sikes, E. E. The Greek View of Poetry. London, 1931. 
Smart, John S. Tragedy (Essays and Studies of the English Association, Vol. VIII). 

Oxford, 1922. 

Southworth, J. G. The Poetry of Thomas Hardy New York, 1947. 
Spencer, Theodore. Death and Elizabethan Tragedy. Harvard, 1936. 

Shakespeare and the Nature of Man Cambridge, 1943. 

Strachey, Lytton. Books and Characters. London, 1927. 
Strong, L. A. G. The Sacred River. London, 1949. 

Stuart, D. C. The Development of Dramatic Art. London, 1928. 

Temple, W. Mens Creatrix. London, 1949. 

Tennant, F. R. The Concept of Sin. Cambridge, 1912. 

Tennant, P. F. D. Ibsen's Dramatic Technique. Cambridge, 1948. 

Thelen, M. F. Man as Sinner. New York, 1946. 

Thompson, A. R. The Anatomy of Drama. Univ. of California, 1942. 

The Dry Mock. Univ. of California, 1948. 

Thorndike, A. H. Tragedy. London, 1908. 
Tuve, R. Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery, Chicago, 1947. 
Unamuno, M. de. The Tragic Sense of Life. London, 1921. 
Ussher, Arland. Three Great Irishmen. London, 1952. 


Vaughan, C. E. Types of Tragic Drama. London, 1924. 
Volkelt, J. Aesthetik des Tragischen. Munich, 1923. 
Wade, Allan. The Letters of W. B. Yeats. London, 1954. 
Watts, A. W. Myth and Ritual in Christianity. London, 1953. 
Weil, Simone. Waiting on God t transl. E. Crauford. London, 1951. 
Weisinger, H. Tragedy and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall. London, 1953. 
Welsford, E. The Fool, His Social and Literary History. London, 1935. 
Wheelwright, Philip. The Burning Fountain. Indiana University, 1954. 
White, Victor. God and the Unconscious. Foreword by C. G.Jung. London, 1952. 
Whitehead, A. N. Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures, 1927-8). Cambridge, 

Adventures of Ideas. Cambridge, 1933. 

Wickes, F. G. The Inner World of Man. London, 1950. (New York, 1948.) 
Williams, Charles. The Figure of Beatrice. London, 1943. 
Yeats, W. B. Essays. London, 1934. 

Dramatis Per sonae. London, 1936. (Dublin, 1935.) 

Plays and Controversies. London, 1923. 


Abbey Theatre, 199, 201, 204, 205, 216 

Abercrombie, Lascelles, 19611 

'A.E.', 275 

Aeneid, The, 169 

Aeschylus, 29, 65, 83, 215, 245 

Choephoroe, 1811, 109, 130, 155 

Eutnenides, 17, 35, 138 

Orestcia, 39, 67, 84, 237, 277 

Prometheus, 60, 65, 84, 244 

Seven Against Thebes, 244 
Allon, 1 1 211 
Anderson, R. L., i8n 
Anouilh, 62, 63, 222, 231, 233-43 

Antigone, 59, 130-1, 239-40, 262, 268 

Eurydice, 40, 141, 236n, 240-2 
Archer, William, 181 

Ethics, 12, 25, 286-7 

Poetics, xn, 1-25, 26, 43, 62, 90, 9111, 
93, 96, 165, 206, 229, 247, 271, 272, 
27711, 278 

Politics, n-12, 17 
Armstrong, E A., 134, 14011, 14411 
Arnold, Matthew, 10, 142, 163, 164, 

217, 233, 266, 291 
Auden, W. H , 140 

Bab, Julius, 74 

Baker, Howard, 157 

Barth, Karl, 27211 

Bentley, Eric, 93 

Bcrgson, Henri, 13, 28n 

Bertaux, Pierre, 254 

Bickersteth, G. L., xv 

Blair, Robert, 260 

Blake, William, 2n, 48, 55, 122, 138, 

141, I99n, 249, 260 
Bodkin, Maud, xv, 711, 86-7, 134, 138, 

145, 155, 27611 
Bossuet, 164 

Bottomley, Gordon, King Lear's Wife, 


Bradbrook, M. C., I72n, i8sn 
Bradley, A. C , 52, 7in, 146, 147, 15311, 

278, 282n 

Brandes, Georg, 173 
Bndgeman, P. W., 26 
Bridges, Robert, 276 
Bneux, 70, 113-15, 120-1, 122, 196 
Bronowski, J , 2011, 56 
Browning, R., 1211, 15, 67, 126, 233 
Brunetiere, 59, 152 
Buber, Martin, 77 
Burke, 45-6, 54 
Butcher, S. H., I, 8n, 24 
Butler, Samuel, 276 
Buttcrfield, Herbert, 251 
Byron, 57, 67, 85, 96, 126 

Calderon, 215 

Campbell, George, 45 

Campbell, L. B., 1811, 15411 

Campion, T., 44-5 

Camus, 242 

Carlyle, T., 146 

Castelvetro, 43 

Caudwell, Christopher, 254-5 

Chambers, Whittaker, 246n 

Chapman, 57, 62, 88 

Chaucer, 124, 148-9, 195 

Chekhov, Anton, 63, 105, 180, i8in, 


Chesterton, G. K., 58, 189 
Claude, 163 
Clemen, W. H., 134 
Coleridge, S. T., 8, 20, 22, 26-7, 52, 

276, 278n, 28011 
Collier, Jeremy, 90 
Conrad, Joseph, 183 
Conieille, 101, 200, 235 




Coustcau, J. Y., 3711 
Cowden Clark, Mrs, 15311 
Croce, 146-8 

Dante, 122, 218, 222, 232, 274 

Davics, Sir John, 32 

de Quincey, 150 

de Vigny, A., 2o8n 

Dempsey, P. J. R., sin, 235, 236 

Descartes, 44, 170, 235 

Dobrc"e, Bonamy, 222n 

Donne, John, 77, 88, 93, 94, 139, 258 

Downs, B. W., 17211, i73n 

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 22911 

Drinkwater, John, 21, I25n 

Dryden, John, 2, 146, 164 

Dunbar, William, 260 

Diirer, Albrecht, 260 

Eliot, T. S., 711, 83, 13511, 139, 209, 
217-32, 234, 25011, 284n 

The Cocktail Party, 108, 222, 224, 
225-8, 229-31 

The Confidential Clerk, 222 

The Family Reunion, 220, 222-5, 230, 

Four Quartets, 33, 217, 220 

Murder in the Cathedral, 21, 84, 85, 
220-2, 228, 229n, 231 

Sweeney Agomstes, 105 
Ellis-Fermor, U. M , xv, 27 in, 291 
Empson, William, 134, I35n, 138 
Engels, 247 
Euripides, I43n, 165, 166, 280, 284n 

Alcestis, 226n 

Elektra, 109, 222, 270 

Hippolytus, 31, 48, 109, 120, 135, 268 

Ion, 222 

Iphigeneia, 84, 108 

Medea, 107 
Everyman, 247 
Existentialism, xiii, 235-7, 239, 240, 

Ezekicl, Book of, 40 

Fergusson, Francis, xv, 9, 27n, 88-9 
Fed, Domenico, 260 
Fluchere, H., 147-8 

Foerstcr, Norman, xni 

Ford, 48 

Fortcscue, Sir John, 69 

Frazer, Sir James, 85, 134, 258n 

Freud, Sigmund, 71, 77, 98, 134, 140. 

I58n, 246, 288, 289 
Freytag, Gustave, 14, 28, 32n, 52 
Fry, Christopher, 278n 
Fuseli, 260 

Galen, 12 

Galsworthy, John, 127 
Garaudy, Roger, 252 
Giraudoux, 59, 62 
Goethe, 36, 82, 233 

Faust, 33, 105, 123 
Gonne, Maud, 2o6n 
Gorer, G., 50, 51 
Gosson, 90 
Greene, Graham, 57 
Gregory, Lady, 198 
Gncrson, Sir Herbert, 48n 
Grillparzer, 233 

Hardy, Thomas, 19, 41, 4in, 72-3, 
115, 125, I35n, 142, 176, 222,244, 

Harris, Mark, 28211 

Harrison, Jane, 76, 134 

Hartmann, 145 

Hauptmann, 28, 247, 248 

Hcbbel, 6711, 74n 

Hecre, Lucas de, 26on 

Hegel, xin, 5, 41, 64, 71, 147, 175, 193, 

Heine, 131 

Heller, Erich, 3611, 219, 21911, 249, 256n 

Hemingway, Ernest, 25011 

Hesiod, 276 

Hinks, Roger, 145 

Hoffman, F. J., I44n 

Hogarth, I27n, 260, 26on 

Holbein, 260 

Hohnshed, 21, 160, 247n 


Iliad, 38, 169 
Odyssey, 9, 208 

Hopkins, G. M., 268-9 



Horace, 44-5 
Housman, A. E., 68 
Hughes, Richard, 260 
Hume, David, 45 
Hurd, R., 45 
Husserl, 235 
Huxley, Aldous, 274 

Ibsen, 27, 31, 70, 102, 105, 107, 11311, 

115, 122, 138, 13811, 157, 172-88, 

189, 190, 196, 199, 231, 271, 272, 

Brand, 83, 84, 129, 132, 135, 175, 

176-8, 186, 188 
A Doll's House, 10, 28, 39, 108, 172, 

174, 17411, 178-9 
Emperor and Galilean, 125, 1756 
An Enemy of the People, 174, 244 
The Feastmgs at Solhoug, 173 
Ghosts, 30, 39, 49, 70, 128, 172, 174, 

17411, 178-9, 259, 270 
Hedda Caller, 105, 107, 139, 17411, 

179, 180-1, 1 86, 270 
John Gabriel Borkman, 174, 17411, 


The Lady from the Sea, 105, 141 
Little Eyolf, 181-2, 186 
Love's Comedy, 173 
The Master Builder, 30, 128, 135, 184-5 
Peer Gynt, 83 
Rosmersholm, 29, 70, 135, 138, 174, 

17411, 179-80, 181, 182, 185, 270 
Vikings at Helgcland, 173 
When We Dead Awaken, 141, 184-7 
The Wild Duck, 32, 54, 65, 108, 128, 

135, 174, 175, 180, 182 
Iliad, The, 155, 169 

James, D. G., 147 

James, W., 274 

Jansenism, 170 

Jaspers, Karl, 71, 282, 285, 290, 291 

Job, Book of, 35, 41, 69, 70, 77, 101, 


Johnson, C. F., 158 
Johnson, Samuel, 112, 126, 146, 271, 

27311, 275, 28011 
Jones, Ernst, 711, 98, 134, 15811 

Joyce, James, 14411 
Finnegan's Wake, xiin 
A Portrait of the Artist, 14-15 

Jung, C. G., 80, 8 1-2, 89, 90-2, 95, 9811, 
134, 269 

Kant, xni, 59 
Kean, Edmund, 275 
Keats, 33, 126, 206, 275 
Kere*nyi, G., 80-2, 89, 95, I56n 
Kierkegaard, 13, 172, 176, 188, 235 
King, Bishop, 260 
Kipling, Rudyard, 26 in 
Kitto, H. D. F , 12 
Knickerbocker, W. S , 151-2 
Kmght, G. Wilson, 134, 152 
Knights, L. C , I53n 
Kocstler, Arthur, 24011, 246n 
Koht, H , 179 
Kranach, I39n 
Krutch, J. W , xn 

La Rochefoucauld, 54 

Lamb, Charles, 47, 146, 150 

Landseer, E , 260, 26on 

Lawrence, D. H , in, 122, 272 

Lessing, 244 

Lewis, C. Day, 134 

'Longinus', xn, 10, 142, 273n, 27511, 


Lorca, Garcia, 116-20, 121, 132, I43n 
Lueas, F L , xv, 811, 16, 15811, 163, 249, 


Macaulay, 26011 

Macneile Dixon, 7, 24, 54 

Maeterlinck, M,II, 31, 127,130 

Malraux, Andr6, xni 

Mantcgna, 21211 

Margoliouth, 8n, n, 12 

Marias, J., 10 

Marlowe, Christopher, 60, 9811, 206 

Dr Paustus, 52, 53, 60, 66, 67, 101, 
152, 167 

Tamburlaine, 85 
Marx, Karl, 77, 247, 289 
Marxism, xni, 71, 246, 250-1, 254-6 
Massmger, 265 



Matthaei, E. M., 65 

Matthews, Very Rev. W. R., xv 

Melville, Herman, 162 

Moby Dick, 132, 140, 141 
Michaelangelo, 149 
Mill,]. S., 251 
Miller, A., 266 
Milton, John, 10, 24, 62, 124 

Samson Agonistes, 178, 263-5, 26jn 
Moliere, 204 
Moore, George, 66, 198 
More, Sir Thomas, 160 
Moulton, R. G., I59n 
Murray, Gilbert, I43n 
Myers, W. H., 274 

Niebuhr, Reinhold, xni, xv, 74-7, 79, 
160-1, 244, 251, 254, 288 

Niebuhr, Richard, xv 

Nietzsche, xii-xin, 29, 44, 4411, 51, 52-3, 
54-6, 60-1, 65, 71, 83, 176, 190, 
219, 244, 246, 251, 253 

Noh Plays, 102, 2Oin, 205, 211 

Northam, J. R., 9n, 172, 284n 

Norwood, Gilbert, iO7n 

O'Casey, Sean, 62, 189, 197-216 
Juno and the Pay cock, 129, 212-13, 214 
The Plough and the Stars, 214 
The Shadow of a Gunman, 214 
The Silver Tassie, 40, 139, 213-14 

O'Neill, Eugene, 127, i8in, 222 
Mourning Becomes Elektra, 40, 87, 

131-2, i Son 
Strange Interlude, 268n 

Odyssey, The, 208 

Ortega, J. Gassett y, 124 

Otto, Rudolf, 272n 

Owen, Wilfred, 258n 

Peter, John, 223 n 
Pirandello, 36 
Plato, 6, 8, 20, 80 
Plutarch, 21, 151, 247n 
Poe, Edgar Allan, 260 
Poussin, 10, 164 

Quiller-Couch, Sir A., 98n 

Racine, Jean, 101, 105, 111-12, 151, 
163-71, 200, 233 

Andromaque, 164, 167-8 

BJre'nice, 163, 164, 169 

Britannicus, in, 112, 166-7 

Iphigenie, 169 

Phedre, in, 165, 169 
Raglan, Lord, 83 
Raphael, 61 
Rapin, 44 

Richard of Bordeaux, 21 
Richards, I. A., I2n, 14, 87, 90, 133, 

Rilke, 219 
Rosa, Salvator, 10 
Rousseau, 247, 288 
Rowe, Nicholas, 46n 
Rymer, Thomas, 23-4 

Sadc, Marquis de, 50 
St Paul, xiv, 64, 109 
Sartre, J P., 50-1, 233-43 
Huts Clos, 239 
Les Mouches, 237-8, 242 
Scahger, 43 

Schiller, 244, 245, 275n 
Schopenhauer, xni, 59-60, 59n, 172, 

176, 257 

Schweitzer, Albert, 252, 282, 292 
Scott, Clement, 173 
Scrutiny, 15211 
Sedgwick, W. E , i62n 
Seneca, 30, 148 

Sewanee Review, ion, 28n, iO4n, I52n 
Sewell, Arthur, 15211 

Antony and Cleopatra, 19, 21, 33, 35, 
47-8, 67, 87, 88, 96, 100, 107, no, 
122, 124, 126, 131, 141, 143, 147-8, 
150, 155, 156, 164, 200, 257, 259, 
268, 27in, 276 
Coriolanus, 29, 47, 62, 88, 96, 99-100, 

no, 138, 161, 258n 
Cymbelitie, 105 

Hamlet, 9-10, i6n, 31, 47, 52, 53, 62, 
66, 76n, 88-9, 98-9, 125, 126, 129, 
131, 138, 140, 150, 152, 157-8, 
160, 199, 200, 201, 219, 256, 275n 



Shakespeare, cont. 

Henry IV, 142, 159, 161 

Henry V, 28, 84, 142, 161, 200, 


Henry VI, 159, 160 
Henry VIII, 151 

Julius Caesar, 21, 22, 70, 89, 129 
King John, 54, 84, 159 
King Lear, i6n, 19, 28, 30, 31, 32, 38, 
47, 49, 50, 63, 65, 67, 72, 83, 84, 

96, IO311, IO7, IIO, 122, 124, 131, 
132, 135, 138, I4O, 141, I5O, 153, 
154-5, 156, 178, 184, 185, 193, 
207, 219, 268, 271, 27II1, 272, 274, 
279, 28411 

Love's Labour's Lost, 53 
Macbeth, 35, 38, 49, 52, 54, 63, 66, 70, 

84, 87, 96, 107, 108, 124, 135, 138, 

143, 150, 152, 153, 156, 160 
Measure for Measure, 41, 27811 
Othello, 23-4, 25, 28, 35, 38, 47, 49, 

49n, 50, 53, 57, 65, 96-8, 99, 140, 

157, 274 
Richard II, 21, 31, 80, 84, 122, 159, 

160, 245 
Richard HI, 54, 67, 84, 159, 15911, 160, 

Romeo and Juliet, 23, 41, 47, 63, 72, 

101, no, 130, 139, 150, 155, 184, 

263, 278, 27811 
The Tempest, 86, 208 
Timon of Atliens, 138, 161, 193, 200 
Titus Andronicus, 47 
Troilus and Cressida, 53, no, 124, 

219, 27811 
A Winter's Tale, 41, 148, 150, 

Shaw, George Bernard, 33, 105, 107, 

113, 115, 172, 173, 174, 175, 188, 

189-96, 204, 245 
Back to Methuselah, 1 1 
Candida, 103 
The Doctor's Dilemma, 103, 190-2, 


John Bull's Other Island, 18911 
Stjoan, 47, 79, 103, 105, 107-8, 190, 

193-5, 259 
Mrs Warrens Profession, 190, 192-3 

Shelley, xiii, 43, 105, 2730, 292 

The Cenci, 50, 206, 27 in 

Prometheus Unbound, 242, 244 
Siddons, Mrs, 105 

Sidney, Sir Philip, xiv, 20, 97, i69n 
Sikcs, E. E., 25 
Song of Solomon, The, 139 
Sophocles, 29, 272 

Antigone, 84, 109, 138, 239, 244, 263, 

Oedipus at Colonos, 31, 263 

Oedipus Rex, 22, 24.11, 31, 38, 39, 47, 
61, 84, I43n, 244, 270, 280 

Philoctetes, 94, 278n 

Women of Trachis, 109 
Southworth, J G , 4in, 72n 
Spencer, Herbert, 248 
Spencer, Theodore, 134, 26on 
Spender, Stephen, 134 
Spcnglcr, 249, 25611 
Spenser, Edmund, 33, 149 
Spurgeon, Caroline, 134 
Stoll, E ,158 
Strachey, Lytton, 163 
Strmdberg, A , 63, 105, 18 in 

The Father, 84 

Lady Julie, 5311, 121, 126-7 
Strong, L. A. G , xnn, i62n 
Swift, Jonathan, 102, 161, 193, 209 
Synge, J. M , 68, 83, 189, 197-216, 231 

Deirdre, 20111, 203, 261, 267 

Playboy of the Western World, 199, 

Riders to the Sea, 2, 11, 49, 108, 116, 
129, 155, 202-3, 209, 21311, 262 

Shadow of the Glen, 19511 

Tate, Nahum, 178 

Tearlc, Godfrey, 278 

Temple, Archbishop William, xv, 77n 

Tennant, F. R., 73-4, 246 

Tennyson, Alfred, 106, 220, 260, 26 in 

Thelen, M. F., 71, 74-7, 289 

Thomson, James, 68 

Thorndike, Dame Sybil, 1711 

Tillyard, E. M. W., 62 

Titian, 199 

Toller, E., 248 

304 INDEX 

Tourneur, C, 48, 272 
Traversi, D. A., 152, 153 
Tuve, Rosamund, 134 
Twa Corbies, The, 132 

Unamuno, Miguel de, I4n, 29on 
Upanishads, The, 221 
Ussher, Arland, 196 

Vaughan, C. E., 172, 175 
Volkelt, J., i6n, 36n, 74n, 253, 254 

Wagner, Richard, 55, 183, 280 
Wakefield Miracle Play, 48-9 
Wanley, Nathaniel, 260 
Wassermann, E. H , 45 n, 54n 
Watts, A. W., 89n 
Watts, G. F., 260 
Waugh, Evelyn, 26111 
Websterjohn, 37, 48, 52, 60, 126, 258, 

271, 272 
Duchess ofMalfi, 57, 67, 105, 109-10, 

122, 128-9, 132, 145 
White Devil, 109, 152 
Weil, Simone, 7811, 234 
Weisinger, H., xin 
Welsford, Enid, 14411 
Wheelwright, Philip, ion, 26, 28n, 104 
White, T. H., 276, 27611 

White, Victor, 269n 
Whitehead, A. N., 46, 282 
Wilde, Oscar, 55, 71 
Wilder, Thornton, 22 
Williams, Charles, 28711 
Winstanley, Miss, I54n 
Wordsworth, William, 58, 215, 245, 
273, 287, 292 

Yeats, W. B , 1211, 4811, 57, 81, 82n, 83, 
13511, 14311, 144, 189, 197-216, 225, 
231, 234, 250, 271, 274 
Essays, 31, 125, 199-201, 292-3 
Plays and Controversies, 80, 87-8 
Poems, 33, 36, 12111, 124, 130, 134, 
136, 187, 197, 19911, 207, 214-15, 
217, 241, 25011, 257, 262, 27511 
On Bailees Strand, 136-7, 206-8 
Calvary, 66, 101-2, 198, 209 
Countess Cathleen, 205-6 
Death ofCuchulain, 13611, 211-12 
Dreaming of the Bones, 209 
The King's Threshold, 55, 266-7 
The Player Queen, 208-9 
Purgatory, 20711, 209-11 
The Resurrection, 198 
The Words upon the Window-Pane, 

209, 276n 
Yutang, Lin, 249